Bloody Hell is a slick, stylish, violent indie film that actually works…and that’s bloody rare!
I can’t really stress how pleased I am that Bloody Hell is so much fun. Having watched mountains of indie films here for the site, you get a bit jaded. Tons films try to impress with sizzle, only to reveal rotten meat on the grill. There’s no shortage of films that try to dazzle with snarky characters, witty dialogue, stylish action, and buckets of gore. Bloody Hell actually pulls it off.
Bloody Hell (2020)
Held captive in a mysterious basement, a man on the run (Ben O’Toole) must find a way to escape from a violent and demented family.
Escape from Genre Purgatory!
Bloody Hell starts off with a bank heist. If you’ve perused my most savage reviews, you know that bank heists are where indie movies go to die. It’s a formulaic genre that takes a ton of creativity to make viable. That’s why a good heist movie is one of my favorite type of movies. It’s why most indie versions suck so bad: lots of people think they can brute force a stale story with expletives, explosions, and cockiness.
Bloody Hell looks to be falling into that black hole, but winds up using the momentum to slingshot out into some really unique and clever twists. First, despite lots of cursing and bloodshed, the scene is not there to make anyone look cool, at least not for long. Instead, we see a quirky guy with obvious issues suddenly go from loser to hero…and promptly get crushed by society for it.
Set the Table.
The bank scene does so much heavy lifting that you don’t notice because of the violence and immediate stakes. Director Alister Grierson gets so much character building out of such a short scene. Rex (O’Toole) has a manic energy to him, but also a reticence, bordering on social awkwardness. He also obviously has quite a compliment of skills when it comes to violent confrontations.
This all becomes incredibly important as we need a guy who is competent enough to handle the horrific situation he finds himself in, but who isn’t some super-soldier who renders the tension moot. It also opens up lots of headspace in which O’Toole really shines.
I’ve actually seen quite a few movies that Ben O’Toole has been in, but with the exception of maybe Hacksaw Ridge, I can’t really recall him standing out from the crowd. Here he’s electric. He’s got the world-weary deadpan wit of Peter Gallagher from Office Space, the cocky bravado of Robert Downey Jr.’s Tony Stark, and the manic snark of a young Jason Lee.
The script lets him really indulge all of those different facets. Rex, a veteran of Afghanistan, deals with his trauma via an imaginary duplicate. Instead of being just “Rex’s rational half” or “Rex’s ball of anger,” his double is a whole character. It can advocate for calm and cool reasoning, but also talk Rex into devastating violence if the situation needs. O’Toole having a vehement argument with himself in the middle of the maelstrom is just a total pleasure to watch.
Take Some Risks.
Bloody Hell really dares to go its own way. So much of the film is technically formulaic: a nobody in a bank heist becomes an ersatz hero, a random traveler gets waylaid by a crazy family of cannibals, a former vet has psychological issues and ping-pongs from detached to intense. Grierson and Co. elevate the material by injecting so many risky flourishes, most of which pay off.
First, the heist seems to go like your standard power fantasy for our hero…until he’s hauled off to jail for collateral damage and loses his love interest and any semblance of normalcy because of it. The crazy cannibal bit is instantly flipped on its head because we know this family has accidentally captured a certified maniac who is probably going to take them apart with gusto…until we see that they’ve CUT HIS FRIGGIN’ LEG OFF. Talk about constantly turning the tables!
Not everything comes together in Bloody Hell, but it hardly detracts from the film. The Finnish cannibal family could have used some more development to make them extra scary, but the film also uses the obvious stereotypical natures of them for some nice humor. The middle of the film slows down as we revisit the bank heist, now being able to see and hear Rex’s double. It could have been made a bit leaner, but it does offer some great moments and flips yet more assumptions.
Overall, I was thrilled by Bloody Hell. The film itself does a fantastic job of coloring outside the lines of some stale tropes with fresh and audacious strokes. O’Toole is just a revelation; doing double-duty on great character work, carrying off extremely physical moments, and just breathing fire all over the place with great dialogue and delivery. If you want to have your faith restored in indie action flicks, Bloody Hell will earn every cent of your money.