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Raising Hell   C+

Sub Rosa Studios

Year Released: 2003
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Directors: Brandon Bethmann, Eric Szmyr
Writers: Brandon Bethmann, Eric Szmyr
Cast: Michael F. Hayes, Mirinda James, Ashton Holmes, Michael Burnside, Steven O'Connor, Jennifer Roe, Elizabeth Carstens, Robert Brustle, Pat Reilly.

Review by Michael Scrutchin

Raising Hell, an indie horror flick set against the backdrop of the political arena in upstate New York, tries to be suspenseful and intriguing, but doesn't quite succeed. It's a good try, though, and the movie has a cold, cryptic vibe akin to that of The Devil's Advocate.

The film's central villain, Governor Harrison (Michael F. Hayes), is a ruthless bastard who likes to play nasty. With his numbers slipping in the polls, he uses the ancient Keys of Solomon to enlist a demon to take out his opposition or anyone who might pose a threat to his winning the upcoming election. Caught up in all this madness is baby-faced college boy Zach Alder (Ashton Holmes), a press rep for the governor who starts his own investigation into the rising death toll when the attorney general with whom he was having an affair is found dead. But police officer Lynn Russell (Mirinda James) doesn't think that's a good idea, having seen the vicious demon face-to-face.

The film has a decent enough premise, the use of many great locations that add much production value, and some very nice camerawork and shot composition. On paper, it seems that the potential for suspense, horror, and intrigue would've been great, if only it were executed right. And the execution isn't bad. So why didn't it work?

Well, for one thing, the movie feels cold and mechanical. It's an exercise in style and plot that never truly engages. It plods along sprinkling new plot developments here and there, but it keeps the viewer at an objective distance. Although we have two characters we could be rooting for and identifying with, the film never lets us get close enough to give a damn about them. Some people may see things differently, but I didn't ever feel a connection to either officer Lynn Russell or the governor's press rep Zach Alder, even though Mirinda James and Ashton Holmes are both quite good in their respective roles.

The problem is Raising Hell doesn't spend enough time with either of its two protagonists, instead spreading its attention all over the place and many different characters. There's the trigger-happy cold-blooded drifter (Michael Burnside), there's the scheming attorney general (Elizabeth Carstens), there's the not-quite-suspenseful death scenes of all those who fall prey to the demon, and then some. It feels like an ensemble film, but without an all-around solid cast to back it up. There are some decent to good performances, but there are even more weak and bad ones.

It's said that a thriller is only as good as its villain. And, well, Michael F. Hayes as Governor Harrison doesn't cut it. His performance is decent, but he lacks that certain something that would make him a memorable or chilling villain. Moreover, the trigger-happy drifter is really nothing more than a bland Terminator clone. And the bloodthirsty demon is more likely to elicit chuckles than chills, though it's still a pretty impressive accomplishment for a low-budget movie. It looks pretty cool, perhaps reminiscent of the demon from Pumpkinhead; it's mildly menacing, but not scary. For me, the fact that the demon could speak took away any sense of dread it may have inspired.

Still, it's well made for a low-budget indie. It was shot on digital video by two filmmakers, Brandon Bethmann and Eric Szmyr, who seem to have a lot of talent and potential. There's a pretty cool (and bloody) shootout near the end, but the climax ultimately fizzles. Although Raising Hell isn't a riveting success, it's not a total failure, either. It's an admirable effort, but one that's too cold and mechanical to be truly engaging.

Review published 09.24.2001.

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