'Bloody Hell': Film Review

Courtesy of The Horror Collective
A brisk, just-funny-enough escape thriller.

Alister Grierson's comic thriller watches as a man (Ben O'Toole) tries to escape becoming a banquet for a monster.

A captivity tale whose ostensible Finnish setting serves mostly to put us in mind of grisly old-world folk tales, Alister Grierson's Bloody Hell saves its troll for the very end but offers plenty of peril while we await him. Built around an animated performance by Ben O'Toole, who isn't hampered by spending most of the film suspended from rope handcuffs in a dank basement, the pic musters just enough dark-comic energy to recall early Sam Raimi — albeit without the frenzied camerawork that helped make Evil Dead a classic.

O'Toole's Rex gets more backstory than your average trapped-in-a-basement wretch, but in first-time screenwriter Robert Benjamin's hands, what feel like tangents eventually prove meaningful. A former soldier, Rex once found himself caught in a Boise bank robbery with an opportunity to save the day. He did, but his heroism (caught in exciting flashback sequences) also got an innocent woman killed. In a very unlikely development, this white good-guy vigilante was sentenced to eight years in prison for his recklessness; in an even less likely one, he remains tabloid-famous upon his release, followed by a horde of paparazzi. But unwanted fame is what motivates Rex's trip to Finland, so let's not fret too much about plausibility.

Sadly, his trip is interrupted before he even gets to a sauna. Bad guys who targeted him at the airport have a confederate waiting outside in a cab; they gas him, and when he awakens he's dangling from his wrists in that basement. Missing the lower part of one leg. (In addition to being right-legless, he's also shirtless, so let's give thanks for whatever very-effective fitness regimen Rex maintained in the big house.)

Rex has yet to meet his hosts — Nordic cousins to America's backwoods-gothic nuclear family archetype, tidily dressed but just as inbred and demented — but fortunately, he's not alone. Long ago, he learned to cope with stress by imagining a second version of himself who stands outside the action, wisecracking and making observations a less calm man will find useful. O'Toole evidently relishes having both roles to play, and the conceit enlivens an otherwise familiar scenario until the remaining complication arrives: Alia (newcomer Meg Fraser), the grown daughter of the upstairs clan who wants no part of their crimes.

Alia's older brother, we learn, is a deformed and monstrous giant who will eat nothing but human flesh. So her parents and brothers (including a pair of twins who like wearing folkloric masks) do little but find new people to feed him. Judging from the giant pile of suitcases near Rex, the airport is their favorite hunting ground. Alia is a prisoner of sorts herself, and is too terrified to help Rex outright. (She'll drop a knife at his feet, but won't help him maneuver it to the knotted rope up above his head.) But she's desperate to leave with her still-innocent kid brother. Looks like Rex has found someone new to save.

While the rest of the story fits its genre pretty neatly, Benjamin and Grierson manage to surprise us once or twice, and even the expected action is staged with more style than usual. O'Toole, a supporting player in big productions like Detroit and Hacksaw Ridge, easily carries the picture, even if this film's answer to an amputated limb — smart, but a far cry from Evil Dead II's chainsaw-hand — invites us to observe that he's not as charismatically quirky as Bruce Campbell. Then again, given the not-unexpected closing hints that this story may not be over, Rex and his cooler half may have more chances to charm us before long.

Production companies: Eclectik Vision, Heart Sleeve Productions
Distributor: The Horror Collective (Available Thursday, January 14 in theaters, drive-ins and VOD)
Cast: Ben O'Toole, Meg Fraser, Caroline Craig, Matthew Sunderland, Travis Jeffery, Jack Finsterer, Ashlee Lollback
Director: Alister Grierson
Screenwriter: Robert Benjamin
Producers: Brett Thornquest, Joshua Paul
Executive producer: Steven Matusko
Director of photography: Brad Shield
Production designer: Michael Rumpf
Costume designer: Lucinda McGuigan
Editors: Alister Grierson, Robert Benjamin
Composer: Brian Cachia
Casting director: Amanda Mitchell

R, 93 minutes