Review by Derrick Carter
Running Time: 1 hour 25 minutes
MPAA Rating: R for Bloody Violence, some Disturbing Images, Pervasive Language, Sexual Content and Drug Use
Directed by: J.T. Petty
Written by: J.T. Petty
Starring: Clifton Collins Jr., Clancy Brown, Andre Royo, Robyn Rikoon, Macon Blair, Stephen Gevedon, Dan Fogler & Larry Fessenden
There’s a really cool idea in HELLBENDERS that could make for a potentially brilliant horror-comedy. This is not that film. I can say that much for this low-budget flick that has a good cast, but doesn’t give them a whole lot to work with in the story department. Coming off his creepy creature feature THE BURROWERS, J.T. Petty adapts his own graphic novel into a sacrilegious but tame horror-comedy that doesn’t earn more than a couple of solid chuckles. The main gag of having priests swear, use drugs and do all sorts of extreme sex acts in the name of serving the Lord sounds like a blast on paper, but gets old after a while thanks to the lack of a discernible plot. HELLBENDERS ultimately squanders a great premise and wastes the time of some talented actors.
The Augustine Interfaith Order of Hellbound Saints is a specialized group of priests who have dedicated their lives to serving God in a rather unconventional way. Instead of living by the Commandments and striving to give acts of kindness and love in their everyday life, these ministers are frequently committing the seven deadly sins in order to make themselves damnation worthy. You see, this renegade group of blasphemous priests specializes in possession cases. If all else fails, they use their sinful nature as a nuclear option to kill themselves and drag the demon back to Hell with them.
HELLBENDERS most definitely has a promising concept, but lacks a solid plot line to back that up. There’s some overly familiar nonsense about the possible end of the world and a mystic medallion, but nothing befitting characters who are this colorful. Though this was a low-budget film, production values appear overly cheap. It’s as if director/writer J.T. Petty wanted to do this horror-comedy on a grand scale but lacked the actual grand scale or technical prowess. We are told and not shown that the city is going to Hell at one point, but the most we actually see are spots of cheesy CGI fire (was fire too expensive, really?) and obvious red filters layered over the camera lens (much to the same annoying effect as this year’s HELLIONS). The demonic possession scenes should have contributed a significant amount of fun to the film, but play out in anticlimactic ways with Syfy-looking hordes of flies jumping from person to person. Though the plot wastes a good idea, sloppy editing certainly doesn’t help push things in a positive direction either.
The screenplay is about as by-the-numbers as you can get with overly familiar apocalyptic stakes at hand and threats of the band of blasphemous priests. The special effects look as if they were added in a Flash Animation program. Most of the jokes fall flat, but HELLBENDERS is kept from being a total failure thanks to performers trying harder than they necessarily needed to. Clifton Collins Jr. and Clancy Brown take center stage as the two main damned priests, Lawrence and Angus. Angus is easily the most well-developed character in the film, but still winds up as an aged veteran hero stereotype. Collins is okay as Lawrence (though his character isn’t particularly well written to begin with), while Robyn Rikoon is bland as Lawrence’s underdeveloped love interest. Macon Blair and Dan Fogler earn a few genuine chuckles, but are also woefully underused and underwritten.
HELLBENDERS kicks off with a great idea and does absolutely nothing with it. The only laughs and good qualities of the film come from the cast. None of whom were given memorable characters to play. The production values feel overly cheap and the special effects look unintentionally shoddy. The possession scenes themselves can be counted on one hand and are underwhelming. In spite of a cool concept and real promise on the surface, HELLBENDERS is a disappointment at its core. That’s a sin in and of itself.