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"...what you get is a story that’s as joyful as it is horrific about a correctly concerned parent and their child who’s growing up too fast."

- Emily Austin

Hellbender is an occult horror film and original coming-of-age story written, directed and starring the family filmmaking team of Toby Posner, John Adams and Zelda Adams. The film follows Izzy and her fun, but protective mother, who live in isolation in the forest due to Izzy’s “condition”. The two are best friends and even have a rock band together, but no amount of the “cool mom” routine can keep Izzy from questioning her mother’s guidance and realizing her true nature.

The chemistry between the leads is impeccable and their dynamic is both loving and competitive, but individually each brings a lot to the table. Adams shifts from admiration to resentment of her mother a few times throughout the film in a way that is never overplayed. Likewise, Posner gives a strong, but subtle performance as the insecure mentor, constantly trying to glean insights into her daughter and calculate when to tell white lies or come clean. The other performance highlight comes from Lulu Adams (also related), who gives a fresh and honest portrayal of Izzy’s first friend Amber, aka the girl who regrets being nice to the weird kid.

For the production design, Hellbender took a pleasantly refreshing approach, playing into the idea of living in sync with nature and the changing seasons, as opposed to chalk pentagrams and black candles. The whole movie has a really earthy feel to it, in terms of the cinematography, which contrasted nicely with the trippy scrying scenes and the cute jam session musical breaks. The film manages to avoid so many of the typical tropes witch stories tend to have that the unfortunately mandatory opening Salem-style hanging scene feels unnecessary, stylistically out of place and might even give some viewers the wrong idea of what they’re about to watch. However, if you get past that, what you get is a story that’s as joyful as it is horrific about a correctly concerned parent and their child who’s growing up too fast.

Hellbender premiered at the Fantasia Film Festival on August 14th and is screening again today, for a 24-hour-on-demand screening window starting Monday August 16th at 9:00pm. However, if you miss the final festival screening, you can look forward to watching the film on Shudder in early 2022. For fans of witchy things, we recommend you check this one out!

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Posted: 08.16.21



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