Ever since Jamie Clayton was announced as taking on the role of “The Priest”, a role made iconic by Dough Bradley in 1987, there have been hot takes and big feelings all over the internet. The biggest and hottest being the internet cry-baby set who get upset whenever a woman does anything for any reason, there were cries of this movie being yet another example of going “woke” and ruining the original, etc etc etc. So, now that this huge deal of a movie has come, has the apocalypse happened? Are all the cis men being fired from all the movies that exist? Is horror forever dead?
I suppose I’ve kind of shown my hand with the title of this review, but just in case I’ve not – obviously my hilarious build up in the first section was all to say that Hellraiser (2022) is just… fine. Far from the genre-defining masterpiece or disaster that the pre-release reviews from people who hadn’t seen it, instead it falls right down the middle of the road and left me feeling kind of meh about the whole thing. Running at 2 hours, it easily overstays its welcome by 30 or 40 minutes.
Lets get to the positives first though, and likely address the question on everyone’s mind: how is Jamie Clayton as “the Priest”. The short answer is, she’s great. She carries herself with the same gravitas as Bradley did, her makeup is solid, and she really is a frightening presence in the movie. Unfortunately, she is criminally under-used and makes extremely brief appearances across the two hours, and unfortunately her presence is not such that she is a “Anthony Hopkins in Silence of the Lambs” type performance. The cenobites all look great, honestly, and are creepy when they show up – but again, the bulk of the movie has them flitting about in the background until the third act.
The movie is also basically well acted by the human cast, and it looks pretty good. As movie, on paper and in aesthetic, it’s basically a good movie. Unfortunately, it falls apart in the writing and most of the effects. What worked so well about the 1987 film was the relative simplicity of the plot and the extremely gross wet puppets and practical effects. This movie has decided to go… a different route. There are some practical effects on the cenobites, but everyone is noticeably free of goop, and many of the more extreme kills happen in shadow and darkness, so it never seems to want to commit to going as far over the top as it should. The cenobite make up isn’t especially realistic, so having some goofy and over-the-top effects would be in the spirit of the original for sure.
Then there are the CGI effects which… aren’t great, and if anything only shed light on the differences between the original and this one in ways that aren’t particularly flattering. All of that said, the Lament Configuration prop in its various configurations is pretty solid. Also the weird machine one of the characters has driven into him has a pretty cool and fun vibe to it, even if it doesn’t necessarily make sense.
I wonder if there is just an issue here with adaptation. Lovecraft and Barker both seem to suffer in adaptation – there is this effort to over-explain the worlds that either author’s work has created, when what works and makes it unsettling is how much is unknown. Describing the unknown thing in the walls that no human can fathom kind of takes the edge off of it. Y’know? There is a lot of lore here and it all feels forced and unnecessary. My enjoyment of the Hellraiser world didn’t come from fully understanding the motivations and intricacies of the cenobites, the fact that they are so detached is what makes them scary.
All in all, the movie is basically fine but really not worth all of the discourse that has been going around about it. What you’ve got is essentially a fine horror movie that is being built up into this other thing that it just isn’t. It needed more wet puppets and to be much shorter. I’m sure I’m going to be in the minority here with this middle of the road review, but what can you do? 2022 hasn’t delivered a ton of great horror, hopefully it improves.