[Fantastic Fest Review] “Bingo Hell” champions the unlikely heroes in the horror comedy Splatstick with Heart

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Lupita (Adriana barraza) is not your average horror heroine. She’s a firecracker, that’s for sure, but she’s also someone whose angry reputation precedes her. Lupita is pissed off by the overwhelming gentrification, but beneath this abuelita’s abrasive exterior hides a passionate woman desperate to hold on to her dying community. Lupita is the precise type of heroine you want in your corner when a Faustian figure comes to town, leaving a trail of carnage in her wake. In other words, Bingo hell bases his bloody excess with humor, heart and a collection of unlikely heroes.

Mr. Grand (Richard Brake) comes to town, buys the old Oak Springs bingo hall and turns it into a flashy casino-like place. Prize wins instantly change lives and entice new faces. Money can indeed buy happiness, but only in the shortest sense. Lupita, with her longtime best friend Dolores (L. Scott Caldwell), realizes that their small dilapidated community is at stake, just like their lives.

Director Gigi Saul Guerrero, who co-wrote the screenplay with Perry blackshear and Shane McKenzie, uses greed and gentrification as the driving force behind this horror comedy. Guerrero acclimates us to life in Oak Springs and how the dying community gets in the way of his life before superimposing on the horror. Lupita’s social circle is already tiny, and age means the constant threat of shrinking the circle even further. These are the unique characters that attract you before Mr. Big arrives.

Brake is a perpetual stage thief, and giving him the role of the central villain allows him to shine. Mr. Big is charismatic but slimy and sinister, a role that allows Brake to let loose. With such a larger-than-life performance, the potential for Brake to steal the entire movie exists. But Barraza and Caldwell don’t have the attitude of a prisoner and never let him. The pair of elderly heroines combine Brake’s energy with ferocity.

Where Guerrero shows surprising restraint is in the horror of the third act. There is a lot of drool, goo and bleeding, but it never quite goes for all Bingo hell constantly teases. Guerrero spices up in plenty of gore killings or gruesome moments of body horror along the way to a final showdown, but when that moment comes he crumbles and the main threat can’t match the power of the build-up. Maybe because Guerrero focuses more on character losses and triumphs over horror, but the finale loses some energy nonetheless.

Bingo hell features a surprising cast of characters who rarely, if ever, shine in a horror movie. Even with all the filth of greed and blood, Lupita’s journey to find out what a community really means is heartwarming, but her fighting spirit makes her laugh. Brake can be a compelling horror antagonist, reliably, but this is Lupita’s territory, and this is Barraza’s movie. This Bingo hell Approaching her fiery heroine and her friends with such tenderness partly undermines the elements of splatstick horror, especially in the climax. Even still, Guerrero gives a familiar Faustian market premise a new coat of goopy, bloody and often entertaining paint.

Bingo hell releases on Amazon Prime on October 1, 2021.


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