Toby Poser, John Adams, and their daughters Zelda and Lulu first came to Fantastic Fest in 2019 with their ingenious, atmospheric horror film THE DEEPER YOU DIG. We were immediately taken with that film’s DIY spirit, haunting visuals, and impassioned storytelling, and only grew more enthused when we got to know the dynamic family in person.
Now they’re back with an even more ambitious project: a film shot during COVID that is nonetheless sprawling in its thematic reach and cinematic spectacle.
In HELLBENDER, Zelda and her parents start a heavy metal band (for which they wrote their own very catchy and well-produced songs) as a creative outlet for a strange fire brewing inside her. This fire seems to be rooted in something much deeper than the typical teenage angst, threatening danger for anyone who crosses Zelda if it’s left unchecked.
Zelda’s mother Toby intimately understands what Zelda is going through. Toby Poser is a powerhouse both on screen and off, with a fierce love for her family apparent in every scene, but it’s Zelda’s striking face and eerie performance that command the camera’s attention. Still, I’d be remiss to ignore the magnetic presence of her sister Lulu and their down-for-anything father John Adams, both of whom prove the talent genes are spread throughout the family.
HELLBENDER succeeds on multiple levels, exploring the occult and supernatural while simultaneously probing complex family dynamics. This filmmaking family is unlike any other team currently working, and watching their real-life bonds come alive on screen through boundless creativity and devotion to the craft is a singularly moving experience. (LOGAN TAYLOR)