The Hulu horror film, “Hellraiser,” directed by David Bruckner, is the second adaptation of Clive Barker’s 1986 novella “The Hellbound Heart.” The movie opens with Menaker (Hiam Abbas) delivering a box from Serbia to Massachusetts to a wealthy man named Voight (Goran Visnjic), who is holding an adult party of sorts. Attending that party is a guy named Joey (Kit Clarke), who follows Menaker into the innermost parts of Voight’s mansion. There he finds the iconic puzzle, which is in its penultimate form. Voight coaxes Joey into completing it. And as soon as he does so, a blade pierces his hand, and he gets pulled away and torn apart by chains. Meanwhile, Voight looks up to the sky, praying to something called the Great Leviathan, and asks for a boon. Six years later, recovering drug addict Riley (Odessa A’zion) and her boyfriend Trevor (Drew Starkey) come across the same box, thereby putting her and her loved ones in danger.
Why Do The Cenobites Target Riley?
Riley lives with her brother Matt (Brandon Flynn), and Matt’s boyfriend named Colin (Adam Faison), along with another roommate, Nora (Aoife Hinds). Matt doesn’t like Trevor, largely because their relationship blossomed while they were in rehab, and he’s afraid that when either of them relapses, neither of them will be able to help the other. Riley promises Matt that she isn’t going to meet Trevor anymore but goes for a supposed heist with him and even drinks and smokes with him, which means she isn’t “clean.” The aforementioned heist involves breaking into a solitary shipping container, in which there’s a solitary vault, inside which there’s a wooden box, and inside that is the box-shaped puzzle from earlier. Riley keeps it, and Trevor tells her that he’s going to find a buyer for it and then sell it off. But before that, Riley gets into a big tiff with Matt for getting drunk and is subsequently thrown out of his house.
Riley goes to the nearby park, consumes a bunch of pills, and starts solving the puzzle. When she completes one of the configurations, a blade pops up, but it doesn’t pierce Riley’s hand. However, the drugs kick in, thereby causing Riley to spiral literally and metaphorically. A bunch of disfigured entities (which we later come to know are the Cenobites) starts to appear around her. One of them says that the blade was meant for Riley. The Priest (Jamie Clayton) adds that if Riley doesn’t want to complete the task by giving herself to the Cenobites, she must sacrifice someone else. While saying that, it seems like The Priest puts some kind of a spell on Riley, which then causes Matt to have a nightmare. He gets up and starts looking for Riley and finds her passed out at the park. When he picks up the box lying beside her, he accidentally cuts himself with it and becomes a victim of the Cenobites.
Now, the obvious question arises: why do the Cenobites keep coming for Riley? They got their sacrifice, didn’t they? Well, by the looks of it, they keep appearing as hallucinations in front of Riley. So, she doesn’t get to move on from Matt’s death or disappearance. She is constantly reminded of the fact that something supernatural arrived and took him away. This forces her to search for answers, especially regarding the puzzle’s origins. And the more she searches, the more she puts herself and those around her in harm’s way. For example, she learns that the container is connected to Menaker, who tries to wrestle the puzzle away from Riley and gets stabbed by it. The Cenobites come for her. Next, she learns about Voight and goes to his mansion. Nora, Trevor, and Colin go after her to bring her back home. But all of them become prey for not just the Cenobites but also Voight. So, yes, Riley’s search for answers causes all the problems, but you can’t exactly blame her for it because she needs closure after Matt’s death.
Trevor Is Actually Working For Voight?
The most noticeable change to Voight’s mansion is that it has a massive and intricate iron cage around it that can be opened and closed from the inside. When Riley gets there, she sees no sign of life. She does discover Voight’s journal, which details the various configurations of the puzzle: Lament (“Life”), Lore (“Knowledge”), Laudarant (“Love”), Liminal (“Sensation”), Lazarus (“Resurrection”), and Leviathan (“Power”). And it hints at the fact that if someone completes all five configurations (which involves sacrificing a human every single time the blade pops up), they will get to ask for a boon from the God of the Cenobites. We know that Voight did manage to complete all five configurations and asked for a boon from the aforementioned God. What did he ask for? According to him, he chose Liminal because he had experienced everything that can be afforded by a human, and yet he wanted more.
This God, though, played a cruel trick on Voight by installing a weird machination right through his chest that endlessly pulls at all his nerves because the Cenobites’ definition of pleasure (or sensation) is just more pain. Since Voight wants to undo this curse masquerading as a boon, he sends the box out into the wild so that some unsuspecting soul begins the cycle of the configurations. And as the rules state that the person holding the puzzle, when it’s in its last configuration, will get the chance to ask for a boon, Voight only has to ensure that it makes its way back to him before the finale. For that, he needs a failsafe, and that failsafe is none other than Trevor. That means Matt was actually right about Trevor, and his hunch that he wasn’t a good person to hang out with was correct. However, how do we get to know about that?
Well, Trevor plays his part really well and doesn’t reveal his allegiance to Voight till the last moment. I even think that he truly loves Riley. That’s why he tries to get the puzzle away from her the moment she takes her eyes off of it. But after entering the mansion, he doesn’t help Nora out of the hidden passageways so that she can be stabbed by Voight. I think that he purposefully goes in circles while escaping the mansion’s grounds so that the Cenobites can get to Nora. The only mistake he makes is that he tries to fight off one of the Cenobites, gets himself bitten, and starts bleeding out. So, he becomes dependent on Riley to get out of there alive because she is the only one with an escape plan, while Voight doesn’t exactly have any plans to get out of his mansion. Instead, he wants to hold the Cenobites hostage until he gets the contraption out of his body (which, as you can imagine, sounds like a recipe for disaster).
‘Hellraiser’ Ending Explained: What Does The Priest Do To Riley And Voight?
During the second act, when Riley tries to get rid of the box, The Priest stops her from doing so and unfairly manipulates it so that Riley gets stabbed. The Priest essentially forces her to come up with two more sacrificial humans to prevent herself from becoming one. Riley finds out that if the Cenobites are stabbed with the box, they can be offered up as sacrifices too. So, she decides to trap one last Cenobite, stab it, and be free of this violent cycle. That plan goes horribly wrong because when the Cenobite starts to chase Riley, she drops the puzzle and gets trapped behind a grill door. Trevor accidentally manages to trap the Cenobite as well. But by the time they can reclaim the puzzle and stab the trapped Cenobite with it, Voight enters the picture and stabs Colin with it instead. As Voight calls upon the Leviathan, Colin tries to escape, and Trevor goes after him.
The Cenobites catch up to Trevor, while The Priest approaches Voight, who pleads for relief from his pain and suffering. Riley manages to get past the trapped Cenobite, grab the puzzle, and go in Colin’s general direction to save him. The Priest tells Voight that the process of inserting the contraption through his chest cannot be undone. He can exchange it for another gift. Voight chooses the Leviathan configuration. Meanwhile, in a bid to save Colin (and to give Trevor the punishment he deserves), he asks the Cenobite to let go of Colin and take Trevor instead. The Cenobite obliges. So, Riley stabs Trevor, and the Cenobite takes him with it. As for Voight, the contraption in his chest falls out of his body, and he begins healing. But that’s when a massive chain descends from above, pierces Voight, and pulls him into the Leviathan ship, vessel, or floating temple. However, that doesn’t mean the Cenobites are done with Riley.
The Priest asks Riley to choose from Lament, Lore, Laudarant, Liminal, Lazarus, and Leviathan as her boon. Riley sees a vision of Matt. But she knows that the Cenobites’ gift isn’t very straightforward, and she doesn’t know if Matt will be directly resurrected or if she is going to pay for it in some grotesque way. So, she chooses nothing, thereby accepting that Matt is truly gone. The Priest taunts her by saying that that means she has chosen a life of regret. Because she wants to live on despite knowing everything she has done and all the people she has hurt. Which means Riley has chosen the Lament configuration. And on that note, the puzzle returns to the aforementioned shape. The Cenobites and the floating vessel disappear into thin air. Riley drops the puzzle, picks up the wounded Colin, and gets the hell out of there. In the concluding moments of the film, we see Voight turning into a Cenobite as a result of choosing the Leviathan configuration.
When seen from a literal perspective, the Cenobites can be defined as these supernatural beings who come from a dimension adjacent to the reality the characters live in. They appear to those who crave for extra life, more knowledge, try to inorganically make people fall in love, lust for sensations that aren’t humanely achievable, try to bring people back to life but not in the way a doctor does, and, of course, want to have the power to rule the world. They toy with those who have these vices. I’m not sure what the Cenobites will do if someone asks for more knowledge because that’s not, particularly a bad thing. But I’m assuming that they know that nobody asks for that. Or maybe nobody who seeks more knowledge is going to come across that freakish box. And even if someone does ask for it, they are probably going to redirect them toward the options that’ll allow them to torment the foolish mortals.
Both Voight and Riley want things that can’t be achieved realistically (and that is a sensation). It’s not exactly revealed how Voight ended up knowing about the Cenobites and the fact that they could fulfill his desires. That said, we do know that Riley has resorted to drugs, thereby putting her in the path of these harbingers of punishment. And once the Cenobites install the contraption in Voight’s chest and take Riley’s brother, both of their motivations change as Voight starts to seek normalcy and Riley fights to get her brother back. However, only Riley learns that wanting nothing is the only way to end this horrifying cycle. Meanwhile, Voight falls for the exchange option and becomes a slave to his desires instead of a person with any satisfactory powers. Yes, you can say that being a Cenobite is “cool” in an ironic way because you can go around torturing people. But is that something you want to do for eternity while your physical self is in constant pain? I don’t think so.
From a metaphorical perspective (and this applies to Riley only), the Cenobites represent the repercussions of drug addiction. In real life and in its representation in movies and shows, we’ve seen how drug abuse doesn’t just destroy the user but also those who love the individual going through these dark times. Luke Crain’s arc in “The Haunting of Hill House” is most likely one of the best interpretations of what this process looks like for both parties. Bruckner doesn’t achieve the emotionality and anxiety of it all through the Cenobites like Flanagan did with The Tall Man. But the intentions are the same. Hence, Riley’s win at the end isn’t exactly a very triumphant one. Because she has beaten her need for drugs or overcome further temptation. However, she has lost everyone (except Colin) around her. The fact that she drops the box does make it seem that she has accepted this reality and is going to move on. However, if she starts to seek revenge (instead of resurrection) for her brother’s death, then things are going to get bloodier. And given how vindictive the Cenobites are (especially The Priest), it’s quite possible that they are going to haunt Riley until she tries to tackle them again.
Look, I am a fan of David Bruckner, and I loved the hell out of “The Night House” and “The Ritual.” Whenever I get a chance to recommend them to someone, I do it without hesitation. Naturally, I was excited about his take on “Hellraiser,” and I genuinely wanted to love it. But I ended up only liking it, and that’s largely due to the writing, pacing, and cinematography. The film’s production design (by Kathrin Eder), art direction by Szedlacsek Balazs and Bojana Nikolic), score (by Ben Lovett), the make-up and design of the Cenobites, and Bruckner’s direction and his immaculate use of VFX and SFX to create some haunting and gnarly visuals are top notch. However, the movie doesn’t want to be an endless barrage of gut-wrenching mutilations. It wants to be an exaggerated commentary on addiction, thereby making the Cenobites a metaphor for the repercussions of drug abuse. And that’s undoubtedly commendable and a fantastic take on such an iconic group of creatures. That said, whenever the characters open their mouths to say anything, the overall quality just plummets. I can neither empathize enough with Riley and the rest to root for them nor hate them enough to hope they die in the most painful ways possible. They just stay in this awkward place and keep hindering the viewing experience. Still, I’ll recommend giving “Hellraiser” a watch because there are some genuinely scary moments in the film, populated by the most hideous creatures out there, who’ll get you into the Halloween mood.
“Hellraiser” is a 2022 Drama Thriller film directed by David Bruckner.