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Hell Baby | Review

Trash Dump Baby: Sketch Comedy Masters Concoct Hellish Misfire

Robert Ben Garant Thomas Lennon Hell Baby PosterNot quite crass enough to be a successful ‘late night humor’ film and not nearly witty or intelligent enough to ever look past its impromptu, scattered demeanor, Robert Ben Garant and Thomas Lennon’s Hell Baby is perhaps ironically titled. Known for their successful television series, “Reno 911,” and various supporting turns in mainstream American comedies, Garant (who previously directed Balls of Fury, 2004) and Lennon haven’t mastered the art of commanding an audience’s attention beyond punch lines, and their latest effort plays like an idea cooked up from a group of guys that got stoned and watched Rosemary’s Baby (or the Roger Corman produced The Unborn, 1991) late one night.

Jack and Vanessa (Rob Corddry and Leslie Bibb) are about to expect twins, securing a deal on a new home in a slightly undesirable neighborhood, where a possibly homeless denizen named F’resnel (Keegan Michael Key) sleeps in their crawlspace and frequently visits through a living room window. F’resnel cheerfully informs the couple that their new home is colloquially known as the House of Blood because it’s haunted and people have a tendency to be murdered there. Cue for weirdness to begin trickling in as Leslie finds herself possessed by whatever demon has been lurking on the property, enabling her to communicate with the big scary dog peering in the window and instilling a lust for uncooked meats. Meanwhile, two priests from the Vatican (Robert Ben Garant and Thomas Lennon) are assigned to investigate this notorious house, just in time to discover the freshly murdered corpse of Jack and Vanessa’s therapist (Michael Ian Black). A ridiculous plastic suit meant to be a decrepit old woman provides the backbone for the soggy mid-point gags.

A viciously dull and repetitive script (along with a lack of inspired unscripted moments) makes Hell Baby deliriously tedious, only managing to squeeze out a meager chuckle here and there. A tired concept, an expecting hetero couple plagued by a demonic presence in their new forever home, directors Lennon and Garant don’t appear to be attempting anything remotely new with their subject matter, perhaps only capitalizing on the recent success of horror film franchises that have equally exhausted the even more fragile thrill factor of the tenuous material.

For comparison’s sake, the critically (and rather unnecessarily) lambasted A Haunted House is far and away a more superior exercise in bastardized silliness. Garant and Lennon, in top form on fare like their hit series Reno 911 (they also scripted the Night at the Museum films), seem not serve their own best interests as directors, their presence here as priests sent from the Vatican to investigate the haunted home in question nothing more than a perilous gag stretched well past the breaking point of patience. Sure, for once Lennon isn’t mining the endless well of latent homosexual supporting filler, but it’s still the same vein, different dress.

In the end Hell Baby wavers into the opposing nether regions of trying too hard and not trying hard enough, and by the time the titular hellion in question makes an appearance, interest has already entered the undead zone, capping a film that resides in cinema limbo as tired and unmemorable.

Los Angeles based Nicholas Bell is IONCINEMA.com's Chief Film Critic and covers film festivals such as Sundance, Berlin, Cannes and TIFF. He is part of the critic groups on Rotten Tomatoes, The Los Angeles Film Critics Association (LAFCA), FIPRESCI, the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS) and GALECA. His top 3 for 2023: The Beast (Bonello) Poor Things (Lanthimos), Master Gardener (Schrader). He was a jury member at the 2019 Cleveland International Film Festival.

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