Hellbenders (2012)

The Order of Hellbound Saints is the ultimate assault team of the Catholic Church for hunting down demons and sending them back to hell. To accomplish their work they need to sin as much as they can, whenever and wherever possible. In doing so, they meet the requirements for entering hell, and through suicide they can drag evil spirits with them. One day, the spirit of the evil Norse god Surtr is released into Brooklyn, and sets his minions to work to open the gates of hell for him. Only the Hellbound demon-hunters can stop him in his path. If that was not already enough stressful business for the Saints, they also clash with the bureaucratic arm of the Church, which, by order of the new pope, attempts to shut them down.

Hellbenders starts off with the ridiculous or ingenious premise, depending on your angle, that in order to become a member of God’s top demon hunter squad you need to behave like you’re in league with the devil. The incoherence of this setup for the plot transcends all aspects of the movie, making it a very messy piece of cinema at times. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves just yet.

If you want to draw a comparison between existing movies, a crossover of Dogma and the Exorcist is the best I can come up with. There’s a lot of witty (or smart-ass, again, this depends on your angle) dialogues thrown at the audience at a high pace. Catholic techno-babble is abundant, which creates a sort of pseudo-legitimacy for the fairly hysterical onversations. Hellbenders oscillates between genuine humor, silly slapstick, terrifying horror and personal tragedy. Overall, this uneven tone may be irritating for some viewers as it does not allow for the development of a consistent flow throughout the course of the movie.

Hellbenders is not a high-budget movie, and it doesn’t need to be. Most of the story is told through the dialogues, and the few scenes with mostly grueling action related to demon-hunting and exorcising are presented with modest, but convincing special effects. One thing I noted is that there’s a lot biting going on in the movie. Toes, fingers, ears and noses all need to go, plus there’s a few other unappetizing scenes.

The plot is not particulary clever, but serves well enough as a vehicle for the overall spectacle that Hellbenders is. The actors are giving an enthuisastic performance, above all the two leads Clancy Brown and Clifton Collins Jr. The reasons as to why the protagonists have decided to devote their life to the Order are only very briefly hinted at, but personal tragedy and suffering are mentioned, which gives some credibility to accepting a task and role as extreme as becoming a Hellbound Saint. The acts of debauchery that correspond to the cardinal sins are of course commonplace in today’s societies, so in that sense the Saints behave only slightly more extreme than your average college student, I guess. But still, from the point of view of the catholic church we get another variation of the dilemma if the ends justify the means in this case.

Hellbenders is a movie with an eccentric premise, that switches frequently between comedy and horror, and which moves at a relentless pace. While the offensive humor and occasionally disturbing images may be understandably putting some people off, I could not help but enjoy every single minute of it.