HELLBENDER (2021) Reviews, on Shudder and soon on DVD

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‘Growing up is hell’
Hellbender is a 2021 American horror film about a confused teenage girl who is yearning to discover her family’s dark secret.

The Wonder Wheel Productions movie was written, photographed, produced, co-directed by and stars Toby Poser, Zelda Adams and John Adams (The Deeper You Dig).


Sixteen-year-old Izzy (Zelda Adams) leads an isolated life on a lonely mountaintop due to a rare sickness. Questioning her illness and starving for companionship, Izzy sneaks down the mountain where she befriends brazen older girl Amber (Lulu Adams).

Just as Izzy finally begins to feel happiness, a drinking game involving a live worm unleashes a new kind of insatiable hunger within her. Confused and scared, Izzy appeals to her mother for answers but the family’s secrets are as old and dark as the bloodline from which they’re born…


Hellbender’s narrative is more accessible than The Deeper You Dig […] Despite this, they have maintained the same hallucinatory visual aesthetic, evident in the dream-like visions that Izzy and Mother experience when they touch a mysterious book […] While the film’s casual mythology may strike some as unfinished or deliberately opaque, it also encourages viewers to develop their own explanations and backstories.” Bloody Disgusting

” …for all the subtle beauty in the film, it can’t rise above feeling like a micro-budget proof of concept. By now, the Adams’ are seasoned in the craft of filmmaking, and this feels sometimes like a stall in growth […] The pacing is a bit off and feels like an idea that was stretched to feature-length.” CGM Backlot

“The onscreen connection of Adams and Poser is already powerful. But their scenes together feel especially tangible given the real-life mother and daughter bond they share. Emotional beats hit harder, keeping some surprising cosmic elements a little more grounded. Sudden jolts of visual effects work also make Hellbender fly higher in just the right spots.” Dread Central

“Every aspect and element of Hellbender oozes style. Whether it’s the catchy music, the breathtaking imagery, compelling narrative, or phenomenal sound design, there is something to enrapture and enthral all who dare to glance upon it. A strong contender for creepiest film of the year, Hellbender chews you up and feeds on your fears before spitting you out again forever changed.” The Hollywood News

“With only two feature films to its credit, this family trio has already managed to impose a real signature. There is something very unique and organic about the way they present their stories, and the sound work is exemplary. In addition, the musical compositions that they have incorporated into the feature film are very effective and generate a sensitivity between the relationships of these two women.” Horreur Québec [translated from French]

“A final act decision to use CGI is the only real misstep I can point to in the film, with a momentary transformation/jump-scare that just doesn’t land […] Hellbender is a triumphant piece of independent filmmaking. Clever, gruesome, fun and scary, it is a film that grabs the folk-horror genre by its mossy shoulders and gives it a real shake.” London Horror Society

Hellbender is a slow-burn horror film that at times frustrates in its pacing. But the payoff this time is constructed in a far more convincing way compared to their previous movie. The dialogue here lifts the film to a far more interesting subject and delves into what happens when your bloodline taps into its true nature. Can you really protect the ones you love from what they truly are?” Mother of Movies

” …this film establishes a genetic tradition of betrayal and abandonment which, while expressed through the language of genre, will prove confrontingly relatable to anyone (which is almost everyone) who has ever been part of a family. Hellbender is sweet – until it isn’t – and always smart, with hallucinatory realisations of natural magic offset by sometimes jaw-dropping moments of domestic heaven and hell. It rocks.” Projected Figures

“The creative and captivating visuals, a la the equally critic/audience polarizing Saint Maud, don’t make up for the fact that for large stretches of the film, little of any consequence actually…happens. Toy cars roll into one another (how artsy!), set to the tune “Drive,” perhaps appropriately, and the big set-piece, involving tequila shots and worms generates nary a wiggle of fright.” 3/5 Really Awful Movies

Hellbender is a fascinating study of the mother-daughter dynamic, the need for children to strike out on their own and essentially kill the child within to manifest their own adult power. It uses the traditionally feminine power of witchcraft and commune with the darkness to flip the Oedipal script […] It’s fascinating, bloody, at times funny, and always interesting.” Screen Anarchy

“There are so many inspired moments in Hellbender that left me in absolute awe. The Adams Family has such a unique, singular voice that aches through their work and Hellbender benefits from it immensely. Every element from the familial to the occult works in tandem with each other to create a spellbinding work of horror that is revelatory.” Tilt

” …if I hadn’t been bored well past the point of not caring the ending probably would have carried a punch. Unfortunately, the Adams Family made Hellbender’s burn too slow and got so carried away with the stylish visuals and musical interludes that I had checked out long before that point.” Voices from the Balcony


Hellbender had its world premiere at the Fantasia International Film Festival.

Meanwhile, Shudder acquired Hellbender and will release the film, in North America, the United Kingdom, Ireland, Australia and New Zealand on February 24th 2022.

Said Craig Engler, general manager of Shudder, “We are thrilled to bring this family-focused folk nightmare to Shudder with such a talented actual family in front of and behind the camera. With Hellbender, Wonder Wheel Productions has made their most polished feature yet, and we know our audience will delight in the film’s shocking visuals and scares.”

“Teaming up with Shudder was at the top of our bloody bucket list. They’re the pinnacle of beautiful horror, and to be a part of that is beyond thrilling for our family,” added Toby Poser, Zelda Adams and John Adams.

Hellbender is an absolute stunner. I am obsessed with every frame and couldn’t be more excited to partner with Shudder for the release of such an ambitious and unique movie,” said Justin Timms at Yellow Veil Pictures who negotiated the deal.



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