Director: John Adams, Zelda Adams, Toby Poser | USA | 2021 | 86 mins
Teenager Izzy (Zelda Adams) and her mother (Toby Poser) live an idyllic lifestyle in their secluded woodland home. Their days are spent exploring and foraging in the lush greenery that surrounds them, creating art, and playing music together in their rock band, Hellbender. Trips into town are rarely required, but when they are, Izzy is not allowed to tag along; for her own protection, her mother forbids her from venturing further than the house and surrounding land. However, one afternoon Izzy finds herself on the outskirts of a neighbouring property, face to face with the alluringly enigmatic Amber. As the two become friends, Izzy’s confidence grows, as does her curiosity - she thirsts for knowledge about herself, the wider world, and her family’s mysterious history. Izzy’s brush with the modern world is about to change her life forever, as she quickly discovers dark secrets of her lineage, and the true nature of the power within her.
Contrasting a contemporary setting and music video aesthetics with centuries-old folkloric practices and black magic, HELLBENDER is a thrilling mix of demonic mythology, angst-imbued rock music, and a bold visual style. Weighty themes of motherhood and coming-of-age independence are beautifully woven into the narrative; mother and daughter fight to reconcile their shifting dynamic with their unique bond as outcasts facing the world together. With shades of Julia Ducournau’s Raw and Brian De Palma’s Carrie, this fiercely presented folk horror fable is enchanting and horrifying in equal measure.