Movie Review – Hellraiser: Hellseeker (2002)
Hellraiser: Hellseeker (2002) is the sixth installment in the Hellraiser franchise. Directed by Rick Bota, it marks the return of Ashley Laurence as Kirsty Cotton, heroine of Hellraiser (1987) and Hellbound: Hellraiser II (1988), albeit in a small role. It is also the last Hellraiser film to have any input from Clive Barker, who was outspoken in his dislike of its predecessor, Hellraiser: Inferno (2000) and the direction in which Scott Derrickson took the mythos. In small ways this story seeks to correct the moralizing direction of that entry and focus once again on the dualities of human existence, notably good and evil and pain and pleasure.
As Pinhead, played once again by Doug Bradley, asks Dean Winters’character, “Which do you find more exhilarating, Trevor, pain or pleasure?” As I prefer pleasure, we’ll start with the positive aspects of this film. Though her role is small, it’s great to see Kirsty again, and the direction her character takes, while very dark, is also entirely consistent with her actions in the first two movies, particularly her penchant to bargain. She’s a survivor who’s not above sacrificing a scumbag to save her own skin, and the skin of her loved ones. Truly, the film could have used more of her.
Likewise, Pinhead is neither the windbag bore speechifying solely about pain nor is he an agent for divine justice. He treats the main character Trevor as a character study – a curious plaything – and his intentions are purely business. The movie does not attempt to point its finger at the audience for our transgressions, but instead tries to show metaphorically that the potential for the sublime or the suffering or the noble or the cruel are within us in equal measure, and it’s up to us to balance these aspects. Those souls who fall victim to the Cenobites do so seemingly not because their sins damned them, though they may be morally bankrupt, but because they ran afoul of a very human vendetta.
These aspects work… mostly. Now for the pain. Like the last film, this one takes way too many notes from the excellent Jacob’s Ladder (1990). Trevor loses part of his memory after his car goes into a river, his wife Kirsty now missing, and hallucinations, dreams, and fragmented memories constantly intrude on his mind in a surreal manner. Yet Jacob’s Ladder knew when to stop. There are so many of these sequences that by the first act I knew that each time a moment of horror came on screen it would be revealed to be a delusion. You know the old horror trope of the horrible event that turns out to be a nightmarish dream sequence, the character sitting up in bed in a cold sweat? If you’re tired of those, imagine an entire film of it. The writers lean on this technique like a crutch – when they seemingly don’t know how to end a scene, they have Trevor grab his head in pain and forcibly transfer him to the next one. In addition, these transitions are so frequent and awkward that we have no sense of how much time is supposed to be passing. The twist ending partly explains this, but it makes it no less frustrating to watch.
Speaking of Trevor, all of this is not helped by Dean Winters’ flat performance. As a character who is a partial amnesiac, when he talks to people it’s difficult to tell what is supposed to be being conveyed to the audience: Does he remember this person? Does he remember sleeping with this person? Does he remember his lines? It was a performance I was unable to connect with, especially as his reactions to the endless hallucinations are so subdued – if he doesn’t seem to care, why should we?
There are also plot elements that don’t add up and in order to present them here spoilers will be found in this paragraph. For those wishing to avoid them, skip to the next one. Firstly, did Kirsty and Trevor live together in that shabby apartment? It looks like a bachelor pad and considering how women just show up to get boned, I have to wonder if this married couple ever lived under the same roof. The second plot problem lies in Kirsty’s bargain with Pinhead, which is to bring him five souls in exchange for her own. How is she bringing them to him? She may kill them but if they don’t open the Lament Configuration can Pinhead still claim them? It makes no sense that she could collect these souls for Pinhead simply by shooting people in the head without tricking them into opening the puzzle box, thereby rightfully making them the property of the Cenobites. The deal between Kirsty and Pinhead is a twist I actually really like but it simply does not hold up to any amount of scrutiny.
Thematically, I like Hellseeker, and I love seeing Kirsty again and following her along on her character arc. Nevertheless, it is a jumbled, frustrating movie and the plot doesn’t hold up to any degree of inspection. It’s an improvement from Inferno in spirit only.