Directed by: Paul Etheredge-Ouzts
Starring: Dylan Fergus, Bryan Kirkwood, Hank Harris, Andrew Levitas, Matt Phillips, Samuel Phillips, Wren T. Brown, Blake Davis, Luke Weaver
(out of 4)
WARNING: Spoilers ahead.
Hellbent‘s storyline roughly follows the formula of the slasher. Four friends get together on Halloween night to party when they become the targets of a hulking killer with a sickle, wearing a devil’s mask. Most of the friends are killed in gory ways, usually after they’ve engaged in “sexual situations.” The final victim must do battle with the killer to come out victorious, but the ending reveals that the slasher may not be dead, opening the door for a possible sequel. Oh, did I mention that all the characters are gay?
Hellbent is directed by Paul Etheredge-Ouzts and is produced by the here! channel, known for content that gears toward a gay audience. Etheredge gets points for not portraying the main characters as simple stereotypes; sure, they all want to get laid, but that’s the way it is with most unfortunate victims in slasher cinema. Hellbent, however, seems more like a coming-out/coming-of-age story with slasher elements. It seems more interested in laying bare the needs, desires, and vulnerabilities of its characters and showing their humanity. Take the young, inexperienced Joey (Hank Harris) for example – he develops a liking for a certain jock-like crush (Blake Davis), but his first meeting is filled with uncertainty, low self-confidence, nervousness – all the things we remember going through when we asked a someone we liked on a date for the first time. The film sympathizes with him, and gives him a victory of sorts in a club bathroom before he is brutally dispatched by the killer. Take Tobey (Matt Phillips), who dresses in drag – a lifestyle in conflict with his true nature, who is rejected throughout the night until, in a fit of loneliness and drunkenness, pursues his killer (as a potential score) and reveals his appearance by removing his costume (the killer is briefly intrigued but unfortunately it’s not enough).
There isn’t really a sex=death metaphor going on here; I think Hellbent is taking potshots at mainstream society in general. The killer’s appearance – a mysterious, shirtless muscular figure – is all the information you’ll get. His identity and motivations are never revealed, making him more like Carpenter’s “shape” from Halloween (note: executive producer Joe Wolf’s stated that his desire was to produce a “gay Halloween”), but this time a manifestation of a society that can still destroy a person for coming out as a gay man. And although the movie never mentions religion, the title of the film as well as the killer’s choice of a devil mask seems a sly reference to the threat to homosexuals of eternal damnation for their lifestyles. There’s also the choice of Eddie (Dylan Fergus) to wear his deceased father’s police uniform as a costume, and his use of daddy’s gun later on suggests the need for sons’ desire to make their fathers proud – another layer of uncertainty that those still in the closet need to deal with – that their parents will no longer accept them.
As slasher flicks go, Hellbent is standard fare, but it does have a bit of fun with the Halloween festival theme, and there is a sequence involving a character’s eye, ending with a rather awesome shot involving the deadly sickle – another nod to horror cinema’s sensory assault on the audience. If you can get past the sex scenes (my guess is, if you’re straight you’ll be taken aback not because you’re offended but because you’re not used to gay characters getting it on onscreen; anyway, it’s not that explicit) and concentrate on the character moments, metaphors, and humor, you’ll enjoy Hellbent for putting a slight twist on a genre that is normally more comfortable showing female T&A.
- Bill Gordon