hellbender | john adams | zelda adams | toby poser | witch | witches | witchcraft | isolated | isolation | united states | rinzin thonden | khenzom | shawn wilson | judy rosen | rob figueroa | tess mckeegan | john adams sr. | tannis kowalchuk | jessica beveridge
Directors: John Adams, Zelda Adams and Toby Poser
Writers: John Adams, Zelda Adams and Toby Poser
Starring: Zelda Adams, Toby Poser and Lulu Adams
This is a movie that I got turned on to via podcasts I listen to. I heard praise on a few different ones so I made it sure it went on a list of movies to check out. It also was on my radar as it came to Shudder as well. Now I’ve heard an interview of John Adams, if memory serves, as he had another movie come out recently as well. To clarify, he’s the co-writer/co-director and even a cameo in the movie. Him along with his family make movies which I think is great.
Synopsis: a lonely teen discovers her family’s ties to witchcraft.
We start this off in the past. There are a group of people in what I’m guessing is the 1600s. They’re hanging a woman for witchcraft. It takes a long time for her to finally suffocate, but then she starts moving again. A woman who seems to be charge pulls a gun and shoots her. The witch then flies away and starts to burn in the process.
The movie then shifts us to modern times. We are following Izzy (Zelda Adams) and her mother, who is played by Toby Poser. They live an isolated existence. Their house is in the middle of woods. They have signs up to keep people out. They have fun though. Together they have a rock band. They’re also vegans in the most extreme way. Izzy is urning for something more. Her mother keeps her in isolation, telling Izzy that she has an autoimmune disease. She won’t even let her go into town with her.
Izzy does get out by going for walks in the woods. During one of these, she meets a man, played by John Adams. He is asking for directions as he is lost. He inquiries about her age, as he has a niece who lives nearby that he thinks is about the same. Mother shows up and sends him away. We see here that she is a witch. She turns this man into dust.
During another of Izzy’s excursions, she comes upon Amber (Lulu Adams). She is swimming in a pool and calls out to Izzy. She accuses her of being a pervert but realizes that she isn’t who she thought. The two of them become friends. Through them hanging out, Izzy meets AJ (Rinzin Thonden) and Ingrid (Khenzom). It also makes her question things. She’s been told that she is sick and can’t be around people. That isn’t true. What she does learn though is that her mother might be protecting others from her and her powers.
That should be enough to flesh out the synopsis and giving you a bit more about some of our characters. This is an interesting story. It isn’t the most complex, but it also doesn’t have to be. This is also perfect to be shot during a pandemic. I’m not sure when this was filmed, but we have a limited cast and most of the cast is the Adams family. That does make it easy for sure. Regardless though, I thought the premise and the character study of Izzy and her mother is one that kept my interest.
Where I want to start then would be with the title, Hellbender. I think that John, Zelda and Poser came together to make an original idea that serves on multiple levels. First, this is the name of the band for Izzy and her mother. On top of that though, this also seems to be a type of witch. I’m not up on my lore for witches so I don’t know if this is something that is more common knowledge for people who do know more. For me though, this is something new. If they did come up with this idea, it feels like they know all the ‘ins and outs’ for it. Even if they don’t, it feels like they do and I appreciate that. What I can share is that there is a mantra that explains their cycle, how they go about reproducing and why they must eat plants. If they eat living things that have blood, it gives them power. This makes for some interesting things once Izzy starts to learn more about what she is and can do.
Another aspect I want to cover is that of power. In the beginning we have Mother in charge with Izzy understanding that. It is your normal mother/daughter dynamic. Izzy urns though to have friends and leave her isolation. It is interesting as Mother thinks she is protecting her, but I also think it creates problems later. As Izzy starts to branch out and learn that her mother is lying, she gains more power. Once she realizes these things, Mother decides to reveal the truth and almost train her. This becomes problematic though. The more knowledge that Izzy gains, the more power shifts away from her. There is an interesting dialogue here about children becoming better than their parents. I think that Mother wants it for Izzy, but there is also fear here. The ending sequence is interesting with how things end up. There is resentment of the forced isolation and lying about Izzy’s ‘condition’. She is a teen, so there is that natural angst. It works for me.
The last part of the story I want to delve into would be the idea of gaining too much power too quickly. What I mean here is that Izzy being isolated, she leads a sheltered life. She is learning normal enough things though. She learns as a 16 or so year old about the power that her mother has been hiding from her. She starts to test the boundaries. This idea of getting so powerful this quickly, she doesn’t learn to harness it and it consumes her. This feels something like Star Wars with Darth Vader, Carrie or Akira. I like what we are exploring here with this type of story. It is common, but how they go about it here is a bit different which I appreciate.
Where I want to shift then will be to the acting. I’m not going to grade this too harshly as we have an independent cast and this movie isn’t working with the biggest budget. The dialogue gets a bit clunky at times, but that’s probably a combination of writing as well. I did like Zelda as our lead. I thought she embodied this role. I think it helps the chemistry she has with Poser. They work so well as the focal point of the movie. I thought that Lulu was solid along with John and the rest of the cast. They do well in pushing our two characters to where they end up. Special credit though to Zelda as our lead.
Then the last things to go into would be the cinematography, effects and soundtrack. For the former, I think there are some great shots here. We also get good editing to go with his. I will give credit to this team. It looks much better than their budget. Going along with this, I would say that the practical effects are good. I didn’t have any problems there. My only issue is with the CGI. Not all of it is bad. There were moments I noticed it. When they’re doing dream sequences or things of the like, it is surreal. Those were good and I like how it is used. The last thing then is the soundtrack, which I dug. The music that Izzy and her mother play are great. It is catchy. There is also some eerie, atmospheric music which I also liked. It helped set the tone.
In conclusion, I dug this movie. I’m glad that I listened to the people that were recommending it. We get a story that isn’t the most complex, but it is a character study here that worked. The acting from Zelda Adams is good. I think she plays well of off Poser. The rest of the cast push Izzy as well as her mother to where they end up. I think that the cinematography is great. The soundtrack was close there as well. They both work to set the tone of the movie. If I have any issues, there is clunky dialogue and CGI that wasn’t great. I thought this was above average, just below good that first time around. With this rewatch, I’ve bumped it up to that next level.
My Rating: 8 out of 10