Serving as a glaringly obvious example of the degradation of the horror genre via raunchy slapstick is J.T. Petty’s latest effort, the dismal, dull and doltish Hellbenders. Petty, an up and coming talent over the past several years, having cut his teeth on horror sequels and showing promise as a sort of poor man’s Ti West, here provides us with a regression of talent, ridiculously employing the use of 3D technology and only showing us that it’s simply a gimmick that merely masks the lack of substance on screen.
A down and out group of Catholic priests known as the Hellbound Saints of Brooklyn Parish specialize in exorcism and live like nasty, dirty fratboys in a house of extreme squalor and debauchery. Led by an extremely foulmouthed and dysfunctional Father Angus (Clancy Brown), the group abides by engaging in an extreme amount of sinning, so that they may let their bodies be open vessels to suck demons out of the people they are called to exorcize. Of course, this gives everyone endless and repetitive leeway with foul antics among it’s mostly male (Clifton Collins Jr., Dan Fogler, Macon Bacon, Andre Royo) and sole female (Robyn Rikoon) members, involving sexual liaisons together and one unabashedly exploited homosexual priest. When a new Pope takes over, the Parish is told it will be shut down, much to the chagrin of Father Angus, who has just stumbled upon an ancient demonic force that may just wipe out humanity if the Hellbound Saints aren’t allowed to intervene.
If at first J.T. Petty’s filmography seemed somewhat uneven as he played with different horror subgenres, in 2008 he seemed to hit a nice tonal simmer with a Western hybrid, The Burrowers. With this latest effort, Petty seems to want to try something flashier, brazen, and memorable. However, in execution, it plays like a drunken film student idea that never gets off the ground, instead revolving endlessly around ridiculous antics, constantly reverting to some foul mouthed comment from Clancy Brown for laughs when it starts to run down.
There’s absolutely nothing that feels inspired about the proceedings, with this ragtag group of character sketches seeming like a Catholic rip off of the Ghostbusters gang. It’s too bad that some of the talented cast members, like Brown and Collins Jr. are more than game here, but with tone and narrative completely out of sync, no one is saved from seeming ridiculous. At a mere 85 minutes, the film feels stretched beyond belief, and if there are any genuine prayers to be had for the film, it’s for the end that never comes soon enough.
Reviewed on September 9 at the 2012 Toronto International Film Festival – MIDNIGHT MADNESS Programme.