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‘Helstrom’ review: Hulu Horror Show is one of Marvel’s worst in years

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“Helstrom” is a fearless horror show and family drama that lacks endearing characters.

“Helstrom” is a fearless horror show, as well as a drama constrained by unconvincing cast and underwritten characters. As the darkest Marvel Cinematic Universe TV show to date, and the last to premiere outside of Disney + for families for the foreseeable future, there was reason to hope that “Helstrom” and the showrunner Paul Zbyszewski would end this chapter of Marvel TV on a positive note. Unfortunately, even diehard franchisees will be hard pressed to find much value here.

“Helstrom” focuses on Daimon and Ana Helstrom, estranged siblings with vaguely described supernatural powers. Daimon (Tom Austen) is an ethics teacher and exorcist, while Ana is a Silicon Valley type goth with a fun haircut that murders criminals. The duo reunite to help their demon-possessed mother, Victoria (Elizabeth Marvel), who has been locked in a mental institution for two decades. (Marvel, in the show’s standout performance, juggles what are essentially two roles at the same time admirably.)

What follows is part a demonic exorcism procedure, part a family drama, and none are properly executed. Although Daimon monologues at the start of Episode 1 about the tired horror tropes he sees through, “Helstrom” is an uninspired version of all that is demonic. Demons, who inhabit almost exclusively ordinary human bodies, do little beyond speaking in a disturbing voice and perform rudimentary feats of telekinesis. Characterizing the forces of absolute evil is no easy task, but the demons blueprint takes too long to become apparent, and the entities never serve as an engaging foil for the series’ protagonists.

Neither Daimon, Ana, nor the rest of the show’s benefactors are doing much better. Austen’s take on the demon hunter is terribly bland; Daimon walks around performing exorcisms and video game recovery quests. (This show has not one, but two, MacGuffins stopping demons.) He is joined by Vatican agent Gabriella (Ariana Guerra), whose fishing bow out of the water is far too predictable. Ana de Lemmons is doing a bit better, if only because the writers give the character a certain personality, even though she’s always obnoxious. Either way, neither the Helstrom Family nor the other subjects on the show come forward as believable characters with lives or personalities that exist beyond each episode’s mission.

Worse yet, these missions aren’t worth much. There is talk of demons reigniting an ancient war on humanity or whatever, which sounds quite unsettling, but “Helstrom” is never as scary as this concept suggests. There are a few instances of mild self-harm, a handful of predictable jerks, and a one-eyed skull that causes a man to eat a dead spider, but “Helstrom” never tries to destabilize all viewers except the most hostile to it. the horror. . There are scenes in Marvel’s “Daredevil” which are considerably more grotesque than what is on display here. This is a show that takes place mostly in a mental hospital – with a spooky underground lair! – and features a climax involving a haunted house in an amusement park. To call it horror on the fly would be an insult to the book.

Devout Marvel fans will not be rewarded for overlooking these issues. There is nothing to link “Helstrom,” which was produced by former Marvel TV boss Jeph Loeb, to the rest of the Marvel Cinematic Universe beyond a meaningless reference to the Roxxon Corporation. The show isn’t particularly loyal to the comics (which were a lot more colorful and vibrant than the Hulu adaptation) and doesn’t have much to say about religion, the demons living among us, or little. near anything else either.

Elizabeth Marvel in

Elizabeth Marvel and Erica Tremblay in “Helstrom”

Katie Yu / Hulu

Lack of horror and drama aside, “Helstrom” just isn’t shot well. Most of the show’s scenes either have an overwhelming blue tint or take place in near darkness. Such abysmal lighting is a massive, lingering problem, and it’s nearly impossible to tell what happens during a variety of crucial scenes – even the horror-centric moments are made up for by the complete lack of visibility. “Helstrom” makes Netflix’s MCU shows look blinding in comparison, making it the most dull and bleak TV project in the franchise.

Additionally, awkward editing is a lingering issue across all 10 episodes as well. The dramatic, action-oriented, and ostensibly scary moments are frequently interrupted, and the interruptions kill any semblance of the show’s rhythm rather than creating tension or suspense. Sometimes scenes are shortened to start over immediately. Presumably that’s for commercial breaks (Hulu has an ad-supported level, after all), but those commercials can happen anytime, meaning there are better times than these. The quick cuts also derail the few fight scenes in the series; The actors wince as they telekinesis at each other, amid a bit of punching, but the supernatural demon hunt has never been so low on energy.

Things improve a bit in the later episodes of the series – when the pace picks up and there are tangible stakes for the protagonists – but by then it’s far too little, too late. Any goodwill the series manages to rack up is ruined by its last few minutes which are desperate to put the pieces in place for a second season: a lead character’s alliance predictably changes, a loose ending that was the focal point. of the last episodes of the series is not resolved, and some puzzling concepts and cliffhangers are introduced.

“Helstrom” has yet to be canceled, but given that Marvel has aggressively moved the MCU brand away from the series’ marketing and has already killed off every other non-Disney + show in the franchise, it seems unlikely the story of Daimon and Ana continues in any capacity. If Season 1 was a sign of things to come for Marvel Comics’ best-known Demon Hunters, it might be for the best.

Grade: D

Season 1 of “Helstrom” is now available in full on Hulu.

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