There’s something delicious about the idea of an egotistical celebrity vigilante trying to escape a bad situation only to wind up in a far worse one.
That’s the general logline of Bloody Hell, the latest film from director Alister Grierson, which follows Rex Coen (Ben O’Toole) in the wake of his eight-year jail stint after violently thwarting a bank robbery. Upon his release, Rex finds himself hounded by both the media and the general public.
Rex is a delightful protagonist who gives off a strong Han Solo vibe. He’s a vigilante hero with photogenic good looks, a gruff personality and a secret coping mechanism. Alas Rex’s desire to escape from the public limelight immediately proves untenable: he boards a flight to Helsinki, Finland in a misguided bid for anonymity, but he can’t escape his notoriety. Mere moments after touching down, Rex is gassed in a taxi and strung up in the basement of a family of Finnish cannibals.
The set-up doesn’t unfold in such a linear fashion, though. Robert Benjamin’s screenplay is unafraid to introduce elements without explanation, such as a young girl who flees through the woods in the film’s opening scene. Hell, even the truth about what went down in the bank with Rex and the robbers proves worthy of its own twisty flashback.
Arguably Benjamin’s biggest storytelling swing for the fences, however, is Rex’s trauma-induced coping mechanism: a projection of himself that he interacts with throughout the film. This dangerous narrative construct would be disastrous in less competent hands, but it winds up being an ace in the film’s hand. Rex is by himself for large portions of Bloody Hell’s runtime, so it makes sense to give O’Toole someone to play off of. It doesn’t hurt that careful consideration has been put into both wardrobe and character to ensure the two versions are distinct: not only is Rex’s projection styled in a black leather jacket (compared to Rex’s bare torso), but the imaginary man is far more calm and cool under pressure.
The result is a clever workaround that doesn’t require O’Toole to speak to himself (a tired and annoying trope too often employed in other films). Having two characters also provides visual energy to largely static sequences where Rex would otherwise simply be hanging around.
Having two Rexes would hardly matter if it weren’t for O’Toole’s dynamic performance(s). His Rex is suave, charismatic and slightly roguish. He’s the perfect foil for a murderous family who, judging by the collection of personal artefacts strewn about the room, have successfully executed this stunt more than once.
There is, naturally, a black sheep of the family to help keep things interesting. Alia (Meg Fraser) is the grown-up version of the girl from the opener and not only does she disapprove of her family’s dietary habits, she makes the foolhardy mistake of falling for Rex. Considering that the film takes place all in one night, the speed of her affections are ridiculous, but it is also perfectly in keeping with the rest of Bloody Hell. Bear in mind that this is a film that visually represents Alia and Rex’s fantasies as overexposed, slow-motion dances of joy that strongly evoke The Sound of Music.
The reality is that there are few surprises in Bloody Hell in terms of character or narrative, but the delirious, madcap joy of the whole enterprise renders that complaint moot. Audiences will have no difficult predicting where the film is going (though, to be fair, an early reveal is properly shocking and provides a fair number of amusing complications to Rex’s escape). Comparisons to The Texas Chainsaw Massacre are inevitable, but Bloody Hell’s tone and staging is less dread and grime than silly and splatstick.
Overall this is a rollicking adventure film that capitalizes on its stylishly shot and edited set pieces, as well as the charisma of its lead actor (twice). Bottom Line: Bloody Hell is bloody fun.
Bloody Hell just played at Nightstream.