DVD/Blu Ray

Hellbender (15) |Home Ents Review

Dir. John Adams, Zelda Adams, Toby Poser, US, 2021, 83 mins.

Cast: Zelda Adams, Toby Poser, Lulu Adams

Review by Colin Dibben

This home-grown, independent, pagan-feminist, backwoods horror film deals with the relationship between a witch mother and her 16-year-old daughter, who is just discovering her own powers. The characters really get under your skin, partly because the actors are such strong, credible personalities and partly because their environment rings true too.

Izzy (Zelda Adams) lives in isolation with her mother (Zelda’s real-life mum, Toby Poser) in the wooded mountains of New York State. Izzy doesn’t see other people. Mum and daughter play in a rock band together, just for themselves. Izzy has a rare auto-immune disease which prohibits her from being around other people. Or so she’s been told by her mother.

When she meets Amber (sister Lulu Adams) on a neighbour’s property, Izzy starts to question the reality of her disease and her mother’s prohibitions.

Then she discovers that eating living things gives her special powers, and a confrontation with her mum seems inevitable.

This is the sixth feature from a family collective who write, direct, produce, score, edit and act in their own films. Their manner of film making works a treat here: it is tight and focused, homing in on the characters and their environments. The witchcraft elements are nicely New Age pagan and there’s even some post-punk rock to keep the moribund viewer lively.

Mum Toby is the firm foundation of the film. If she is anything like her character in real life – I’d wager her new age feminist / pioneer matriarch character can’t be too far from reality – she is a force to be reckoned with.

We’re so used to ‘independent film’ meaning a certain look and feel. Hellbender really feels unique, and you know that’s because of the nature of this specific family collective, the Adams Family, and the way they work.

The film’s strengths lie in the intimacy with which the actors interact and are filmed. There are obvious reasons for this intimacy.


Hellbender is out on DVD and digital on 5 September 2022.