If you're on Shudder and looking for something to watch that will take you on a ride I highly recommend Hellbender (2022). Without giving too much away because I do think this is a movie worth the watch a few key takeaways can be shared.
The journey that the character Izzy, played by Zelda Adams, goes through is a scary supernatural coming of age. Adams is able to capture both a shy, unsure girl and an empowered fledging woman in the same movie. At some moments you're rooting for her, almost afraid for her and what could be her fate and at other you are scared of her and what she is capable of.
In the start of the movie the one with all the secrets is her mother, played by Toby Poser, who has kept her hidden away in a mountain forrest since the age of five. Izzy hasn't even been to town, believing that she is sick and could be in great danger if around other people. Izzy's knowledge of the world comes from her mother and the items, like CDs, that her mother brings back from town.
Her mother isn't the stereotypical homeschooling mom who is obsessed with purity and protection in the name of religion, on the contrary they are a badass feminist band duo, face paint and all. Her mother curses and gives very much 70's hippie turned granola forrest dweller vibes. So it makes it even more interesting as to what her motives for hiding Izzy away are.
Hellbender doesn't utilize many jump scares to have you on the edge of your seat but rather a slow burn of tension and confusion as the story plays out. It's hard to decipher who is the villain and who is the hero, or if neither exists at all. We get montages of scary premonition like images and eery music that adds to the fear inducing realizations.
We see Izzy navigate being an awkward, sheltered girl when she meets Amber, played by Lulu Adams, and their female friendship is a refreshing take. As it plays out neither is necessarily a bad person and at various times I agreed with both of them. By the end you definitely know who's side you're on if you're picking sides but I thoroughly enjoyed that though Amber had more life experiences she is never an outright bitch to Izzy. She's understanding but also stands up for herself like you'd expect a normal person faced with supernatural weirdness to be.
Who I thought would make it out safely didn't and who I thought doomed from the first camera shot ended up being okay in the end. The ending is surprising but in a good and satisfying way. One complaint: the special effects in some scenes are lacking but this is easy to look past and is probably more due to budget than a lack of effort or talent.
We don't leave the movie with a lot of unanswered questions, on the contrary all is revealed in due time. Zoe Adams and Toby Poser give a stellar performance and even without flashy scare tactics their talent makes up for it. I didn't feel like a lot of plot points didn't make it into the final cut and the watch overall is enjoyable.
Recommended score: 8/10