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Having its World Premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival, Hellbenders comes to us from the mind of writer/director JT Petty who was the man calling the shorts behind Mimic 3: Sentinel (2003) and The Burrowers (2008).
The film takes us inside the Hellbound Saints of Brooklyn Parish where the members are a group of vile quasi-Catholic priests who spend their days soaked in immorality in efforts to overtly break each of the seven deadly sins. Their licentiousness is recorded by a fellow member of the parish (Andre Royo) and the intention is to be so morally reprehensible that you can be possessed by a demon and then pull that demon into hell with you after taking your own life. This is the motivation for members to be "damnation-ready" for when the time is needed for them to spring into action.
The 'church' is always in a state of readiness. And when the phone rings with reports of a demon sighting, the members jump into action to both bloody and comedic effect. Think of them like the Ghostbusters, except this team likes to smoke, get drunk and commit as many sins as possible for heading out on assignment.
Things get hairy when two of the members try to exorcise a demon only to have one of them become possessed with an evil spirit intent on wiping out all of humanity. The remaining members must then put their feelings for the possessed priest aside as they attempt to thwart the demons world destruction plans.
With a cast that includes Clancy Brown, Dan Fogler, Macon Blair and Robyn Rikoon, Hellbenders was an interested but flawed profane 85-minute ride that stretched its interesting story about as far as audiences would concede.
The equal balance of comedy and supernatural elements worked fairly well and the cast seemed to be invested in the source material which was extracted from JT Petty's own graphic novel.
But the story just didn't grab us by the throat they way the director (I am sure) intended. Although these beings attempt to be as vile and profane as possible, they still didn't come across as evil and nasty as you would have hoped for such a dark comedy. And a whole storyline about the Parish being shut down by the church just felt like a diversion from the core story that was far more interesting.
The effects in the film were top rate. We were surprised at our screening to be passed 3D glasses, but as the movie progressed, we were conscious of the extra dimension and thought it was one of the better uses of the gimmick we have seen on screen. The make up and special effects were also comparable to big blockbuster type budgets.
But for a film demonic possession, it felt rather hollow and didn't give us enough of what the synopsis of the film promised. By the time the curtain was lowered and the cinema lights came back on, we had wished that JT Petty had spent more time on the characters themselves than on the story. We would have far more appreciated a feature just watching these guys sin and try and top each other rather than watching them demon hunt.
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