by Hope Madden
Sometimes a title really hits you, like Bingo Hell. Maybe because the idea of playing this game makes me lose the will to live.
Co-writer/director Gigi Saul Guerrero has a slightly different use for the image of folks hunched over their boards hoping to win something from the community chest. A veteran of the horror short film, Guerrero pulls together conflicted thoughts about gentrification and neighborhood loyalty, poverty and affluence, and the sketchy influence of organized gambling for her first feature.
Speaking of veterans, Adriana Barraza — reliable as ever — leads the film as Lupita, the aging but spunky heart of her community, Oak Springs. She doesn’t dig gentrification. Watching members of her community take the cash and bail because they don’t have the cash to pay newly exorbitant rents doesn’t break her heart, it fuels her rage.
Lupita is a spitfire and Barraza’s relish with her outbursts drives the film’s energetic, campy outrage. Bingo Hell has social commentary to spare, but it’s not preaching. It’s attacking.
Guerrero’s film, part of Amazon Prime’s 2021 Welcome to the Blumhouse program, doesn’t oversimplify causes and solutions. Still, it delivers its recommendations as more of a blunt instrument than a surgical tool.
It is much fun to watch Barraza and other mature actors (L. Scott Caldwell, Grover Coulson, Clayton Landey) inhabit characters with agency and some degree of complexity, but it’s Richard Brake who offers Barraza the best sparring partner. Effortlessly sinister, the underappreciated character actor delivers another memorable baddie.
With characters to root for, violence to spare, and a healthy acceptance of chaos, Bingo Hell is pretty fun.