by Hope Madden
Unusual family dynamics tend to be at the heart of movies made by Adams Family Films, a collective that shares writing, directing, and acting duties.
They’re also a family: co-writer/co-director/co-star/mom Toby Poser, co-writer/co-director/dad John Adams, co-writer/co-director/co-star/daughter Zelda Adams, co-star/daughter Lulu Adams. No word on Cousin It.
The clan’s 2019 horror The Deeper You Dig centered on the bond between mother and daughter, both outsiders in a rural mountain town. The Family’s latest, Hellbender, orbits similar territory.
Poser — again cutting an impressive cinematic figure — is a mother who keeps her teenage girl Izzy (Zelda Adams) far, far from prying eyes. The two enjoy each other’s company, even playing in a 2-person punk band (bass & drums, hell yeah!) called Hellbender.
But Izzy is lonely, and she’s beginning to distrust her mother’s claims that illness prevents socialization. Izzy doesn’t feel sick.
It turns out, Mom isn’t trying to protect Izzy. She’s trying to protect everybody else.
A soundtrack full of the band’s music creates an effective atmosphere of rebellion, anger and evil. Zelda Adams haunts the film, a central figure of awkwardness and naivete blossoming with power.
There’s barely another face onscreen and even fewer behind the camera. Aside from Trey and Samantha Lindsay, who pull crew duties, every role from costume design to sound, editing to cinematography to music is handled by a member of the family.
They are impressive. Hellbender looks great. It sounds great. The story is fluid and creepy, punctuated with psychedelic carnage and informed by lived-in relationships.
A muddy backstory and slight anticlimax keep the film from utterly beguiling, but the coming-of-age center impresses. Hellbender delivers a moral ambiguity that questions society’s fear of female power.
The Adams Family doesn’t represent a gimmick or a “good for you for trying” brand of filmmaking. These people are the real deal and I look forward to their next effort.