In HELLBENDER (2021, Shudder), a mother and daughter live in peaceful isolation in the woods, but they harbor a dark secret. Shot on the fly during the pandemic and indie to the hilt, the film nonetheless holds together as a solid story about witchcraft and matriarchy. I liked this one a lot.
In the forest outside a small town, teen Izzy lives with her mom. They appear happy together, playing music together in a band they named Hellbender. But something isn’t right. They eat only what they find on the forest floor. Told she has a severe illness, Izzy isn’t allowed to leave the property. Mom appears to have strange powers. A chance meeting leads Izzy to understand who and what she is, the supreme power available to her and how to tap its reservoir, and how the cycle of life must continue.
The movie is extraordinary in it was produced by family and bandmates Toby Poser, John Adams, and their kids Lulu and Zelda Adams during the pandemic. The frequent improvisation, leaning into the band playing, and low production quality sometimes puts it a little off kilter, but overall this movie worked for me. I found the approach to witchcraft to be engaging, believable, and filled with terrific lore. I loved the natural confrontation it set up. Overall, the lore feels deep, as if what we’re shown is only a glimpse of so much more.
Overall, HELLBENDER was one of those delightful surprises you find by taking a chance on something new that’s a little raw and slow but compelling. Recommended for folk horror fans looking for something a little different.