Bloody Hell (Alister Grierson, 2020)

ONE HELL OF A FAIRY TALE

When a bank heist goes awry, Rex Coen (Ben O’Toole) spends eight years in prison and is hounded by the media on his release. The unwanted attention forces Rex to flee his hometown of Boise, Idaho, in search of anonymity in Finland, but his arrival in Helsinki lands him in a new, fresh hell. Gassed during his taxi ride from the airport, Rex wakes up drugged, beaten, and bound in the basement of a twisted family hiding a dark secret. With only his personified conscience to help him, Rex is in a race against time to save himself and a beautiful young woman (Meg Fraser) from his terrifying captors and a fate worse than death.

An action-horror-comedy that merges Fight Club with Fargo, Alister Grierson’s Bloody Hell is a raucous midnight crowd pleaser ready for fans of Sam Raimi, John Wick, and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre

Special Edition Contents:

  • High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) presentation
  • 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio and Uncompressed Stereo PCM
  • Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing
  • Boi To Hel, new interviews with cast and crew
  • Rex in an Ass-Kicking Contest, an interview with director Alister Grierson and lead actor Ben O’Toole on the film’s special effects
  • Behind-the-scenes footage and outtakes
  • Trailers
  • Reversible sleeve featuring two artwork choices

Producers Brett Thornquest and Joshua Paul offer a high-concept premise for Bloody Hell: “What would happen if a character like John Wick walked into the home of a deranged family with dark secrets.” It’s a fair description, although it withholds some salient points from this Australian genre-bender. It might be more fair add to their pitch that John brought along his imaginary friend Tyler Durden, that the family is Scandinavia’s answer to Texas Chainsaw, and that the film is more about staggering out the home than into it. The movie’s indomitable hero is Rex (Ben O’Toole), a military veteran in Boise, Idaho, who would like just a few moments with his bank’s cutest teller (Ashlee Lollback as Maddie) but instead finds himself fighting off a quartet of armed robbers. Rex easily dispatches the criminal threats with Jason Bourne-like efficiency but another teller is accidentally killed in the process, and Rex stands trial for his reckless endangerment. He ends up spending eight long years in prison and is released to discover that, thanks to security footage from the bank going viral, he is now a quasi-celebrity hounded by the media and gawked at by the cellphone-wielding public. Frustrated, he flees to Finland to enjoy some anonymity but is singled out at the airport by a creepy couple and gassed unconscious during his cab ride in Helsinki. Rex seems like the kind of guy that bad luck follows around, even if bad luck regularly gets its ass kicked.

Rex wakes up in the roomy but terrifying basement of his abductors, hanging from the ceiling alongside a huge hog’s head and near piles of luggage once owned by tourists just like him. His kidnappers resemble a sociopathic version of the Von Trapps, happily riding bikes through the countryside and caring for a monstrous son who eats only human flesh. Mom, dad, uncle, and twin blonde boys who regularly sport folk horror masks (Caroline Craig, Matthew Sunderland, Jack Finsterer, and Travis Jeffrey twice) relish their task of finding victims to feed their fussily cannibalistic hulk, Pati (Caleb Enoka). Daughter Alia (Meg Fraser) is the family’s black sheep, repulsed her family’s actions and her monster-brother’s culinary demands. As a child, she’d tried to run away but now she works to shelter her youngest brother, Ollie (David Hill), from the horrors they live amongst and protect herself against the ire she inspires in her family. For Ollie, the strung up Rex is a figure of fascination, while for Alia, Rex may just be the partner she needs to finally escape her terrifying home.

Rex has little idea of the family dynamic that awaits him upstairs as he hangs out in the basement, but his situation is obviously dire and he quickly needs answers. How long does he have before dawn? How can he free himself? What awaits him upstairs? How can he manage the trauma inflicted on his body? (No spoilers on that last one!) Rex’s efforts require a cool head and quiet touch and Bloody Hell finds a simple but highly effective companion for Rex who injects some irreverence and energy into these scenes without betraying him to the mad Finns on the floors above. Going back to his days in Afghanistan as a soldier, Rex has found a coping mechanism in speaking to himself, and he answers back by way of an imaginary duplicate version that only he can see and hear. This other Rex, this inner voice, serves as an able foil to the real Rex and creates a kind of action-buddy-comedy dynamic in Bloody Hell. At various points, Rex the projection is dryly suave, daffily hotheaded, coolly composed, and compassionately chivalrous, whatever real Rex needs (or doesn’t) in any particular moment, and he creates banter and debate where none would otherwise exist. Bloody Hell is slick in organizing this double performance. O’Toole is given license to indulge himself and the film is almost always the better for it, particularly when Rex plots alone in the basement.

Rex’s escape from the basement to the house at large makes up a large middle portion of the film that eventually leads to a climactic confrontation with this murderous family and their ogreish son, one that casts Rex in the role of shining knight ingenious fighting machine saving a fair damsel. In truth, Bloody Hell’s climactic confrontation with mom, dad, and the twins, and eventually with Pati, is enjoyable but feels a bit abbreviated. The family lacks in characterization beyond their being generally evil and fairly little is given of Rex’s battle with Pati. Probably more should have been given of Rex’s final boss fight with the twisted heap of muscle that is Pati and likely more of a role should have been given to Alia in that contest, but there’s still fun to be had such as it is. It’s important to focus on the positives and that’s the bloodletting met out compliments of a nail gun, some kitchen furniture, and the head of a golf club. Ain’t cinema grand?

Bloody Hell’s genre-crossing nature is a tricky one to land. Despite there being many great examples of horror comedies, it’s natural to be hesitant about crossing these streams. Bloody Hell actually opens with a scene of Alia as a child unsuccessfully trying run away through some foggy woods late at night, and it’s an ominous and dreadful sequence but it’s brief. The movie declares itself shortly thereafter as being less concerned with scares and more oriented toward outright action. It’s not a poor direction to head in as our growing familiarity with O’Toole’s smarmy Rex encourages appreciating him as a comic action star. Daring, macho, and at times self-consciously quippy (even meta-quippy), Rex recalls great horror-comedy protagonists like Bruce Campbell’s Ash, Roddy Piper’s Nada, or Woody Harrelson’s Tallahassee — regular guys fighting extraordinary monsters and undercutting the bullshit with plainspoken badassery. Part of the joy of observing real Rex and imagined Rex banter through their bizarre predicament comes by watching them understand the action-hero role they occupy and try to emulate the behaviour expected of such a protagonist by searching for the proper pithy phrase or debating the competing interests between surviving and being a saviour. It is through this frequently comic lens that Bloody Hell intertwines thrilling fight choreography and sinister, flesh-eating horror, and the film nails it.

Bloody Hell is the kind of film that cries out to be watched in a group setting, where a packed theatre could get caught up in its funny, violent shenanigans, but such opportunities aren’t out there now and the film has instead had to satisfy itself with being a favourite at last year’s Nightstream Film Festival. MMC! would love to see Bloody Hell get the Arrow Video treatment, keeping company with a similarly violent and darkly hilarious movie, Kirill Sokolov’s Why Don’t You Just Die! (2018). On the other hand, Bloody Hell is apparently the first film of a planned trilogy and so maybe the good folks at AV might wait for the full epic of Rex to be told. Grierson’s gruesomely funny film dropped on VOD this week and so those looking for a Fight ClubHostelEuroTrip combo to holler at with friends during a virtual watch party should definitely consider Bloody Hell.

Credits: Big thanks to the Saskatoon Fantastic Film Festival and to Bloody Hell’s distribution for making the film available to MMC! for this review and proposal. Our cover summary is adapted from the film’s press kit summary and we’ve invented its special features all on our own.

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