Desire is one of the most powerful human impulses known to man. It drives us to salvation and more often self-destruction in a whirlwind of selfishness and sometimes desperation. Many forms of media go to great lengths to depict what a person wouldn’t do for something they covet above all things. But none have ever been more satisfying in its very human, mean-spiritedness than the Original Hellraiser.
Hellraiser was a film that put a spotlight on the sheer sadomasochism of human desire in its many forms. It depicted very real people whose desires were the center of who they were. Julia’s desire for sexual satisfaction. Larry’s desire for his family’s happiness. Even Kirsty’s desire for independence and later revenge. All of these play into their characterizations, their arcs, and finally their ends. Julia’s desire for sexual pleasure leads to her becoming a murderer and her eventual death at the hands of the one she desired. Larry’s desire makes him vulnerable and oblivious to the goings on around him right up to his demise. Kirsty’s desire for revenge truly puts an end to the tragic saga of her family. Desire in its many forms is what always brings Hellraiser to life. Then we come to Hellraiser 2022 and frankly… in all its absolute beauty, it is quite vanilla.
Aesthetically, the film is a feast with its clean almost clinical coloration. It’s exquisitely grotesque creature design and absolutely breathtaking cinematography. On visuals alone… oh such sights it shows you.
However, that is all there is to this new incarnation. There is so much to be desired right down to the quite literal lack of desire itself from the narrative. There is no real concrete motivation in any of the characters, especially in the main character Riley – whom I managed to love in spite of this failing – to warrant the meant-to-be profound ending the writer/directors obviously wanted. Despite enjoying this movie and falling in love with the Hell Priest all over again, this iteration seems to have no focus. It did not feel like a Hellraiser.
Our protagonist Riley is a recovering addict living with her brother and trying to get her life back together. It’s the perfect origin for a Hellraiser protagonist yet somehow this never comes into play in any meaningful way. Throughout the film, we never see Riley struggle with her addiction in that they never hint at what led her to drugs, what lengths she has gone to in the past, and what stresses she’s put on her relationships that cause her well-meaning brother to be so distrusting of her. We are never shown what Riley truly wants, what are those things that make her want to be better, and what tempts her addiction. She is merely a person who was an addict and that’s all we get. This becomes a further annoyance in her interactions with the Lament Configuration. Never once is there intent in her interactions with this box that aren’t completely incidental. Never is there a temptation presented for Riley that is specific to who she is and what she’s been through and this, unfortunately, falls back to her — like most of the others — barely being a character.
The box is meant to tempt your greatest desire. People often mistake this to just mean carnally in the same vein that people think BDSM is only sexual. This film misses the psychological aspect of Desire and of the Lament Configuration by offering us a character that is only driven by coincidence and outside forces, not by her own agency and wants. This is why it means nothing when Riley expresses she wants nothing from the cenobites, because without the incidental death of her brother by the cenobites. Riley never desired anything, to begin with so it leaves the choice hollow.
Hellraiser 2022 simply deletes something that is integral to a Hellraiser story and by doing so removes the human element that made the original and a few of the sequels work well. Everything is simply happening to the characters like it’s a teen slasher film. When I found out that was the direction they intentionally wanted, I contorted into my own Lament Configuration. There’s no agency and personal drive in their decisions and actions, especially regarding an instrument that is meant to grant your greatest desire.
Riley as an addict and at rock bottom could’ve been a very compelling story. For instance, if you’ll indulge me further:
Once the box was in Riley’s hands we could’ve been shown who she truly was. Watch her be driven by her vices to use the box. The first death could’ve been a stranger to both frighten Riley and put her in contact with the cenobites to tempt her. The second could’ve come from Trevor who is genuinely in love with her but is only really using her as a cope as they are both in recovery. The third could’ve been the nosey roommate Nora who came into contact with the box because she let her curiosity get away with her. The fourth then could’ve been the accidental death of her brother who tries to understand what’s happening and help her. It would only be then that she realizes the deaths of what she’s done and who she’s hurt for this new desire, this new high. The Last could be the climax where she’s struggling and conflicted by all of what the cenobites have done to her life. She confides in Collin and Collin, innocently wanting Matt back could’ve attempted to finish the box himself leading to a fight between them and him accidentally marking himself. It could’ve been a very dark moment as he begs, saying he just wants to see mat again. And after witnessing it all, after everything she’s gone through, she has realized what it costs her and makes her choice to live with the anguish that her addiction, her vices, and her very careless desires brought her here. It would bring her bitter, life-long suffering that the Gasp predicts for her.
This is not a perfect outline of events, but it is something that would’ve aligned more with what the Lament Configuration represented. With a story shaped something like this, it could’ve been more of a Hellraiser film. One where intention and desire drive the narrative. It would’ve separated it from a general PG-13 horror flick and given a new Hellraiser for the modern world that dealt in more than just sex, but in the psychological core of desire through addiction. Hellraiser 2022 was too vanilla for its moniker. It left out the core of its identity to play it safe for wide appeal. This left it feeling… painfully soulless. All style but no substance. It came down to just being a modern creature feature wearing Hellraiser’s skin like an ill-fitted one piece.
It truly is a shame. I will always watch a Hellraiser movie. So if they will make more in this new delectable style, then, of course, I’ll be there for it. I just hope that whatever writers they choose will do better justice to the themes of Hellraiser and not just to the aesthetic. And maybe not offscreen the gruesome deaths. This is Hellraiser for Christ’s sake. Come on, they could’ve definitely done better than that — fucking Hostel exists. Ah well, I await the sequel with bated breath and hopefully more of the new Hell Priest. Give me more cenobite action!
Thank you for your indulgence. This has been the Well-Read Squid’s thoughts on Hellraiser 2022. If you enjoyed this, leave a like. If you agree or disagree let me know in the comments. Tell me why, and I’ll read and respond. Most importantly, if you like what I do and want to see more, follow this site or me on Twitter @SpilledInk_Arts! Consider supporting us! This is a full-time job and any help would be appreciated.