Review: Hell Baby (2013)

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Cast: , ,
Director: Robert Ben Garant, Thomas Lennon
Country: USA
Genre: Comedy | Horror
Official Website: Here


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.

hell_baby_2013_3Riffing 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to suggest the film’s primary target—the paedophobic trope of horror cinema to which the title, of course, alludes—is out of date, rather to say the specific breed of ‘70s horror here invoked is hardly ripe for a ribald lampooning.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.

hell_baby_2013_4After 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]

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About Author

Ronan Doyle is an Irish freelance film critic, whose work has appeared on Indiewire, FilmLinc, Film Ireland, FRED Film Radio, and otherwhere. He recently contributed a chapter on Arab cinema to the book Celluloid Ceiling, and is currently entangled in an all-encompassing volume on the work of Woody Allen. When not watching movies, reading about movies, writing about movies, or thinking about movies, he can be found talking about movies on Twitter. He is fuelled by tea and has heard of sleep, but finds the idea frightfully silly.

  • Chris D. Misch

    Wow, such opposing viewpoints on this film between yourself and Jordan. Something tells me this is a film that wouldn’t sit well with me.

  • baronronan

    Reading Jordan’s review was quite the experience for me. You could practically hear his laughter in the writing, but I.. I just don’t understand where it comes from. In my bottom 10 of the year.

  • I’m with Ronan on this one. I laughed maybe twice. Absolute crap.

  • Chris D. Misch

    Likely a skip for me. I often don’t watch comedies in the threatres, and seeing as I didn’t see The World’s End or This Is The End in theatres, I’m not sure I’m going to break routine for this one.

  • bobchanning

    Ronan,

    Your review was also quite the revelation for me. I had expected you would like the film less than me, but the vitriol was surprising. That being said, the review itself is an absolute joy, and your existential despair was well documented.

    I find your idea about the timeliness of parody to be an interesting one. To me, a great parody isn’t a timely parody so much as a loving parody. I’m thinking now of parody/homages like the Cornetto Trilogy, but also of films like the ones you mentioned. Cabin in the Woods is perhaps the most interesting of your examples, because while I quite liked the film, I definitely wouldn’t consider it timely.

    I’m with you on the gross-out humor, which doesn’t do much for me either. The vomiting scene, in particular, was tough for me to watch (I can never much stomach actually seeing people be sick), though there was a humor to the way they extended it. One of the things I loved about the film was its keen sense for extending some jokes until they wrap back around from grating to hilarious (the po’boy montages in particular did that for me)…but I can see in your case they never really recovered from being annoying.

    I think if there’s a central idea to the film–and I’d of course call it a good one–it’s that the devil’s in the details. From the way the umbrella story stretches on and develops its own unexpected comedic life to the absurd-yet-considered structure of F’Resnel’s speech, I think the film finds its resonance in some really weird places, even if the stuff on its surface is occasionally pretty puerile.

    Ultimately, I’m not surprised we disagreed, and actually glad for the opportunity to read such a smart dissection of the film. Good work, as always!

  • Sharon Ballon

    sounds like a miss for me. Thanks

  • baronronan

    You didn’t miss a whole pile with either of those, y’ask me. This Is the End surprised me (not a fan of that gang), The World’s End disappointed (big fan of those), but both land squarely in the “meh” camp where I’m concerned.

  • baronronan

    I’m just as surprised to be so negative! Rarely does a movie raise such ire with me. Maybe I was a little facetious on the timeliness point, you’re absolutely right there; heck, Young Frankenstein doesn’t just play on a film that came forty years before, it literally plays on its sets. I guess the point I was getting at is just that I found Hell Baby to be riffing on easy old targets to no real avail. But then that won’t be the case for anyone who found it funny!

    And I am genuinely glad to see such people exist, and that it’s a matter of my own taste more than anything else. I like what you said about their having to write the various Night at the Museums to get the artistic freedom to make this, and it’s good to see that’s paid off in some cases (in many actually, I see a lot of support for it on Letterboxd). And how nice that we can so radically disagree and still talk it out in such a civil way. Mr Poopy Pants.