Hellbender – Fantastic Fest ’21 review

I really dug Hellbender (Poser & Adams, 2021), a woodland-set tale of contemporary witchcraft, secrets, and mother-daughter bonding

Teenager daughter Izzy (Zelda Adams) and her mother (Toby Adams) live in a beautiful house tucked away deep in the forests of the Catskill Mountains. Izzy isn’t allowed to have friends, or even to get close to other humans, apparently because she suffers from an auto-immune disease, but her mother makes up for this by being a best friend for her two – playing thrashy rock together in their basement band, H6LLB6ND6R.

As Izzy begins to come of age, she starts to encounter other people in the woods, and to get curious about her own family’s history – a history that seems bound up in witchcraft. And is there something ominous, controlling even, about her mother’s coercive affection for her? Is she in danger? Or is the siuation even more deadly than that?

Hellbender is the latest feature from the Adams Family (Toby Poser, John Adams, Zelda Adams), the family who previously created the buzzy 2019 horror The Deeper You Dig. A witch movie that consistently zigs where others might zag, Hellbender uses its occult mystery setup to explore power dynamics and family roles in mother-daughter relationships, and has something to say about self-delusion and a kind of emotional misdirection that amounts to gentle, well-meaning gaslighting. After all, as her mother says, “I love you so much, I could just eat you up. If you break my heart, I’ll devour you.” 

Hellbender just played at Austin’s famous Fantastic Fest, but it’s been picked up for release next year on Shudder, so you can check it out there if you want to see how Izzy reacts when the family secrets all come out. But be aware, the results may be rated hex hex hex (sorry).

[Edit: trailer now available!]:

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