Review: Witching Horror Film Hellbender Is a Complex, Ambitious Effort

One of the more fascinating genre offerings making its way through the festival circuit this year comes from the the Adams family (Toby Poser, Zelda Adams, and John Adams, The Deeper You Dig), who wrote and directed Hellbender, a heavenly slice of folk horror about a mother and daughter (real-life mother, Poser, and daughter, Zelda Adams, as Izzy).

They live alone in the woods, playing in a two-person metal band complete with makeup and costumes; living off the land; and occasionally dabbling into the dark arts that are a rich part of their ancestry (which includes witches in their bloodline being burned hundreds of years earlier, as we see in flashbacks). Izzy is being kept in the dark about the full extend of what her mother’s powers are and what she could learn to do herself, especially after she feasts on living creatures (the two live on twigs and berries, essentially, to keep Iggy’s powers from fully blossoming). But Izzy is a teenager who is growing bored of her life, and she ventures beyond their property and runs into another teenager girl, Amber (Lulu Adams), who finds her new acquaintance a curiosity more than a friend.

Before long, Izzy begins to understand her potential and demands that her mother show her the way toward growing into a full-on witch, which is part magical journey/part disturbing coming-of-age story that also digs into the shifting nature of the mother-and-daughter connection. Soon, the mother begins to understand that just because she thinks she raised Izzy to respect nature and the powers it provides them doesn’t mean Izzy plans to use these abilities for good. It’s a complex and ambitious perspective on the witching lifestyle that takes the subject seriously without forgetting to freak us out in the process.

Hellbender is now streaming on Shudder and other platforms.

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Steve Prokopy

Steve Prokopy is chief film critic for the Chicago-based arts outlet
Third Coast Review. For nearly 20 years, he was the Chicago editor for
Ain’t It Cool News, where he contributed film reviews and
filmmaker/actor interviews under the name “Capone.” Currently, he’s a
frequent contributor at /Film (SlashFilm.com) and Backstory Magazine.
He is also the public relations director for Chicago's independently
owned Music Box Theatre, and holds the position of Vice President for
the Chicago Film Critics Association. In addition, he is a programmer
for the Chicago Critics Film Festival, which has been one of the
city's most anticipated festivals since 2013.

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