‘Hellbender’ (2022) Review: Mother-Daughter Relationships in the Wilderness

Hellbender, a coming-of-age film from the filmmaking family Zelda Adams, Toby Poser and John Adams, is a vicious tale of teen angst and the search for identity. Izzy (Zelda) lives in the mountains with Mother (Poser), isolated from the rest of the world. Her diet consists of pine cones, twigs, berries and other unusual objects. The mother-daughter duo are musicians that regularly play music together. When Izzy meets a lost hiker (John Adams) in the mountains, she becomes curious about the outside world beyond her home. However, Mother forbids her to leave, which leads the curious teenager to find out secrets about her mother that lead down a dangerous path.

At its core, Hellbender is a generational witch story that shows the connection between mother and daughter. Even though it proves to be a coming-of-age tale that involves changing bodies, maturity, and identity, it’s an intimate movie of a mother who does not want her daughter to repeat the same mistakes that she did in the past. When Izzy befriends neighbour Amber (played by Zelda Adams’ sister Lulu Adams), she dares the young teenager to drink alcohol with an earthworm inside it. Suddenly, Izzy breaks into a scream and acts strange. After that event, she begins to ask questions about Mother and her family.

Mother’s instinct is always to protect her child. Izzy spent her entire life in the mountains, sheltered, immunocompromised and under the watchful eyes of her mother. But the more protective Mother becomes, Izzy is drawn towards the world and people far away from her home. There are dark secrets and seductive powers and she protects Izzy from finding out about them. But once Izzy meets the lost hiker and Amber, Mother introduces her daughter to her past and her life. They begin to eat psychedelic maggots and jam out in their mother-daughter band, Hellbender. But Izzy’s power is too strong for Mother to keep up and she begins to be lured into the darkness, something that Mother has been protecting Izzy from all her life.

Hellbender is an exploration of family and the fear of adulthood and being independent. The chemistry between Zelda and Toby are intimate, heartwarming and together they make a spellbinding duo. The movie is spellbinding, gory and savage which may satisfy horror fans, compiled with the emotional drama between the mother-daughter duo that pulls at the hearts of the audience.

Hellbender will stream on Shudder on February 24th.

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