Netflix invests little effort into its horror movie library. By this time last year, the streaming giant had at least released the divisive Texas Chainsaw Massacre legacy sequel. Thus far in 2023 Netflix hasn’t platformed any original horror movies. At least the horror content quietly shuffles a bit each month. So if you’re inclined to visit the horror section occasionally, Netflix may have a hidden gem or two hidden away. Over the last few weeks, a little Polish horror movie called Hellhole has turned into something of a viral hit. Though Poland isn’t known for horror movies, fans can’t stop buzzing about this possession thriller.
Thirty years ago Polish Militia shot down a priest in a church before he could murder an unnamed baby. Years later, a Polish militia officer Marek, posing as a priest, arrives at a secluded church. Now serving as a sanatorium where the allegedly possessed stay, several young women have mysteriously disappeared from the church. As Marek investigates, he discovers that the priests stage their exorcisms. Outside on church grounds, Marek also secretly witnesses the priests burying a young woman that was ‘exorcised’. But other strange events seem out of the church’s control. As Marek gets closer to the secret, his investigation puts him in increasing danger.
Hellhole Spends Most of Its Runtime in Familiar Territory
Though Poland doesn’t have much of a track record for horror movies, writer and director Bartosz M. Kowalski, director of Nobody Sleeps in the Woods Tonight and its sequel, is doing his best to change that perception. Like those neo-slasher movies, Kowalski spends most of Hellhole recycling familiar tropes from demonic possession movies. For instance, the opening scene directly references The Omen’s conclusion. From that point onward, Hellhole transplants its story to an eerie, gothic church shrouded in dour colours and mist. Kowalski – and co-writer Mirella Zaradkiewicz – dabble in the same professional exorcist and Church secrets that the recent The Pope’s Exorcist traded on.
Like those neo-slasher movies, Kowalski spends most of Hellhole recycling familiar tropes from demonic possession movies.
Nevertheless, Kowalski may not initially re-invent the wheel but that doesn’t mean Hellhole lacks for chills. Similar to the slasher trope heavy Nobody Sleeps in the Woods Tonight, Kowalski knows how to make familiar possession conventions still feel creepy. In addition, Hellhole doesn’t lack for atmosphere even if the background imagery could be from any exorcism movie. That is, Hellhole makes good use of its setting to evoke mood and mystery.
Hellhole Stands Out with a Creepy, Inexplicable Finale
In spite of its occasional derivative nature, Hellhole benefits from a screenplay that at least borrows from a few different types of exorcism movies. Things start off with a bit of The Omen followed by a pretty standard, but effective, exorcism scene. And then Kowalski and Zaradkiewicz detour into territory covered in the past by The Last Exorcism. Running through the movie is an intriguing mystery that allows Hellhole to curve now and then. As a result, even if it feels familiar, the story itself almost demands you stick it out to the end just to see what’s really happening.
Once again Kowalski flips the script and, as a result, Hellhole’s final act goes off the rails in the best way possible.
And this is where Hellhole separates itself from the pack. When Kowalski followed up his slasher contribution with Nobody Sleeps in the Woods Tonight Part II, he took the sequel in a bizarrely different direction. Once again Kowalski flips the script and, as a result, Hellhole’s final act goes off the rails in the best way possible. On one hand, the story veers into an almost indecipherable direction that should challenge audiences to figure out just what’s going on. That final scene will leave you wondering long past the credits. Yet it’s the visuals that truly elevate things. Kowalski adds some genuinely disturbing images to the conclusion that never betray the thriller’s budget. While it’s not quite on the same level as what we’ve seen in The Exorcist, for instance, Hellhole still sets itself apart with that finale.
Hellhole Earns its Viral Hit Status With a Memorable Conclusion
For about two-thirds of its runtime, Hellhole is a decent, in not unremarkable, supernatural thriller. At different points, Bartosz M. Kowalski’s possession tale appeals by reminding us of other classic genre movies and introducing some admittedly surprising curveballs. If after watching the first two-thirds of Hellhole, you’re not sure what they hype is about, you’re not alone. But that final act turns this horror movie into an unforgettable experience. Kowalski takes the story off the rails in the best way possible committing some impressive, and haunting, images on the screen. Maybe it’s not the definitive possession movie, but Hellhole’s conclusion earns its viral hit status.