REVIEW: Hell-Bent [2016]

Score: 6/10 | ★ ★ ½

Rating: NR | Runtime: 26 minutes | Release Date: 2016 (USA)
Studio: Mkaszuba Productions
Director(s): Foster Vernon
Writer(s): Lorenzo Cabello & Shayne Kamat / Shayne Kamat (story)

“May you write some great pieces on this”

For whatever reason, screenwriters Lorenzo Cabello and Shayne Kamat refused to turn their script about an underachieving journalist and his demon acquaintance into a deal with the devil scenario. Kudos, guys. There’s ample opportunity too considering Michael’s (Justin Andrew Davis) struggles to find the confidence to fight for a promotion against his cutthroat competition Beth (Ashley Kelley). Ricky (Steven Trolinger‘s demon in question) tells Michael that he better not disappoint him if he agrees to be the subject of this latest make-or-break article, but there’s no real threat. Ricky isn’t interested in tricking Michael into relinquishing ownership over his soul because he has enough vile “meat-bags” to worry about already. As long as he has a drink in his hand, this demon’s really just another dude having fun.

And that’s exactly what Foster Vernon‘s Hell-Bent proves: fun. What else could a film turning a sweet older woman without an evil bone in her body (Leslie Lynn Meeker‘s Agatha) into a satanic conjurer of spirits under the ancient tradition of her grandmother be? The only reason Michael meets Ricky is because he’s kind enough to offer his boss’ (Timothy J. Cox‘s Mr. Bowers) secretary a ride home. His stumbling upon her basement pentagram is taken in stride as a show-and-tell moment for Agatha, her comfort with Ricky as a companion to combat loneliness isn’t something she would think strange. As for Ricky, it’s worth the effort if he can show up at their workplace—invisible to everyone but them—and jovially wreak havoc with a wry smile.

The story is about Michael finding inner strength despite the constant barrage of meanness thrown his way. It’s about him finding common ground with Beth to show her their relationship doesn’t have to be combative. It’s about not judging books by their covers as Agatha’s extracurricular activities reveal. The idea Ricky comes from Hell doesn’t even figure into the story as more than a colorful detail to spin an article around. Sure it allows for a humorous gag with church parishioners and ensures Trolinger must sit in make-up to turn his head and arms red, but his character is really just that obnoxiously loud friend we all have. He’s abrasive, petty, and unsurprisingly a brat when not getting his way. But besides that he’s practically harmless.

Hell-Bent is therefore a cute spin on the demon tale, Ricky’s lifestyle more akin to a comedic work like the under-rated “Reaper” than the melodramatically heavy stakes of “Supernatural”. Demons can be supportive in their own way rather than manipulative villains and seemingly vanilla writers like Michael can befriend them without simply running away in fear. The filmmakers don’t end up giving us anything surprising as far as the plot progression goes, but that’s okay since the journey proves eccentric enough to keep our attention. Ultimately, people treat us as we treat them. Kill your enemies with kindness and do the work necessary to succeed. We could all be devilish by sabotaging the competition, but it’s much more rewarding to achieve victory outright and honestly.

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