Editor’s Note: Hell Baby opens in limited release on Friday, September 6th, and is now available on VOD. For an alternate take on the film, see Jordan’s review.
If we’re to take a cynical eye to it, the purpose of parody is to cash in on the dominant tropes of a given genre, to exploit its persistent narrative or stylistic elements and poke fun at their little absurdities. If we’re to be kinder, and indeed more sensible, it’s an art form in itself, slyly satirical in its sharp subversion of convention and—crucially—integral to the eventual evolution of its genre. Great parodies—think Young Frankenstein, Airplane!, The Naked Gun, The Cabin in the Woods—are timely parodies, injecting a genre with the energy and inspiration it needs to recognise the dead weight, to trim the fat, and—with any luck—to improve.
Hell Baby’s few identifiable efforts at actual satire are just those that have been done a hundred times before served with a side-dish of bodily fluids.
Riffing mostly on movies from four decades ago, Hell Baby is an extraordinarily and excruciatingly out of touch ordeal that doesn’t just have nothing to say that hasn’t been said before, it has nothing to say that hasn’t subsequently been said and said again and pastiched and parodied and re-appropriated and said a few more times and parodied again before. “Timely” is a word that would be offended to be uttered anywhere near this movie; to be mentioned in the same book, even. That’s not to suggest the film’s primary target—the paedophobic trope of horror cinema to which the title, of course, alludes—is out of date, rather to say the specific breed of ‘70s horror here invoked is hardly ripe for a ribald lampooning.
Writer/director pairing Thomas Lennon and Robert Ben Garant, the latter of whom also directed their co-written Reno 911!: Miami, were but babies themselves when The Exorcist and The Omen were released, unborn in the case of Rosemary’s Baby, yet they cling to those films and their structures as though raised on them. It might be a permissible pursuit were their comedy in any way unique; Hell Baby’s few identifiable efforts at actual satire are just those that have been done a hundred times before served with a side-dish of bodily fluids. It’s as emptily crass as it is astonishingly lazy, as utterly indistinct as it is unbearably boring. There’s no interesting intent here, no incisive purpose to the parody, just a tortuously long procession of urine and semen-soaked scenes stolen from movies that knew how to do something new.
What an exhausting film to watch is Hell Baby, how horribly draining an experience its so-called comedy comes to be.
After a certain amount of the peculiar breed of sensory assault it opts to term entertainment, Hell Baby prompts a profound existential experience in the worst way possible. To see the movie is to be sucked into a self-destructive cycle of questions without answers, to interrogate one’s own reason for watching and, eventually, reason for being too. It’s a film so incomprehensibly idiotic and ignorant, so proudly puerile and putrid, that the only means of escape—save bolting for the door, of course, a fine idea—is to give in to the desperate anxieties hammering on the mental door. “Why am I watching this? Why am I wasting my precious little time? Life’s too short. Or is it? Life’s the longest thing we know. Is there nothing else? What’s it all about? Why do we get up in the morning? What’s the point of it all? Oh look, now everyone’s vomiting into their salad.”
What an exhausting film to watch is Hell Baby, how horribly draining an experience its so-called comedy comes to be. It’s less a movie than it is an idea—and a bad one—extended ad infinitum, like a Sisyphean scenario where the boulder flattens the audience, again and again and again. There’s a sequence in the centre of the film where two priests—played by the directors—dine with two police officers—written with such desperate efforts to shock that they make Wrong Cops seem a masterpiece—in slow-motion with the maximum close-up detail of sloppy food dropping from their mouths. It’s a fitting stand-in for the film itself: a single obliviously over-long, unbelievably unfunny one-note joke utterly convinced of its own hilarity.
[notification type=”star”]20/100 ~ PAINFUL. Hell Baby is less a movie than it is an idea—and a bad one—extended ad infinitum, like a Sisyphean scenario where the boulder flattens the audience, again and again and again.[/notification]