Directed by: Alister Grierson. Starring: Ben O’Toole, Meg Fraser, Caroline Craig. Runtime: 1h 35 min. Released: North American Premiere at Nighstream on Oct. 9, 2020.
Mild spoilers of plot-points follow, but I won’t spoil anything *major*.
Ah, I love delightful surprises like Bloody Hell. I was interested by the bank robber hook in the write-up on the Nightstream website, and that helps start the film off with a bang. Rex Coen (Ben O’Toole) finds himself in a crazy situation during a bank robbery and decides to take the opportunity to play hero and save the hostages. Instead, he’s hailed by a hero by some and a lunatic by others and is sent to jail. Once he’s released, he leaves this mysterious past behind for better pastures in Finland. But Bloody Hell, Finland is way worse.
It’s smart how this situation shapes Rex and is a constant weight on him throughout. We don’t get the full story of what happens during the heist until later in the film, which is smart for pacing in this strong screenplay by Robert Benjamin. The pacing in general is also smart when he gets kidnapped in Finland, as Rex talks to himself and when he talks to his internal self, that version of himself comes to life in the room with him.
This two versions bit could seem gimmicky to some, but it speeds up the pacing and it keeps things interesting because the dialogue is so entertaining. The dual performance by Ben O’Toole is great, too. The regular Rex is somewhat calm, somewhat collected about his newfound viral fame for his “heroics” and dealing with that after being released. However, the Inner Rex is the unhinged version, the one processing the rage, and the one that keeps Rex sane when he finds himself waking up in a stranger’s basement with a part of him missing.
It’s this Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde dynamic – which really feels like the personalities between Iago and Jafar from Aladdin, too – that keeps this film entertaining. The dialogue’s sharp and there are a lot of laughs in the film’s black comedy. Rex is interesting, too, finding himself in these crazy situations and having to use his environment around him to survive. I also enjoyed the situation being kept somewhat vague at first. Well, we get early scenes in Finland before he’s there, especially one brilliant transition where Rex, still in Iowa, says “Finland sounds like paradise” and it skips to someone in Finland running through the woods being chased by something that sounds not human. We learn the identity of the big bad soon enough.
The villainous family is brilliant, too. It’s a fascinating family dynamic with some memorable villains – especially Travis Jefferey in the second dual role in the film as twins Gael and Gideon, who sport genuinely unnerving masks. There’s only one sane person in this entire family and that comes in Alia (Meg Fraser), who we learn from the opening scene has been trying to escape this madness since childhood. There’s a truly great pairing created with Rex and Alia, and Fraser seems like a talent to watch in her feature film debut. This dynamic created lends well to the fairy-tale aspect of this film, but saying which story it most parallels would be a big spoiler.
Director Alister Grierson’s style that he brings to Bloody Hell is also genuinely fun, as it’s always fun and zany and never takes itself seriously. That’s why the dual role with Rex is more believable, as it’s obvious he’s unhinged even before the bank robbery. The horror and comedy are balanced well, making this a truly entertaining ride. There are some surprisingly brutal moments but it’s always fun, and the fair amount of gore and fun kills makes this live up its name of Bloody Hell.