‘Helstrom’ can’t even make demon exorcism entertaining

Monday, October 19, 2020 - 12:09pm

NOSELL

Hulu

For the past decade, Marvel superhero movies have dominated the international box office and changed the standard for American blockbusters and pop culture. That wild success has unfortunately also led to more than a few missteps, and “Helstrom” proves that even the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) can’t win them all. 

“Helstrom” focuses on an incredibly obscure Marvel character named Daimon Helstrom (Tom Austen, “Misfits”) and his mysterious demonic powers. Daimon uses his magical abilities to help Dr. Hastings (June Carryl, “Mindhunter”) and the Catholic Church fight the forces of evil plaguing the city of Portland, Oregon. Together, they supervise Daimon’s mother Victoria (Elizabeth Marvel, “Homeland”), who was institutionalized after being possessed by a dark spirit. 

After Victoria orchestrates the killing of a few guards, Daimon and Dr. Hastings seek out Daimon’s sister Ana (Sydney Lemmon, “Succession”) who left Portland after being kidnapped by their father, a dangerous serial killer. As an antiquities dealer, Ana uses her knowledge of demons to get closer to the truth about why their family is marked by evil. Together, the superpowered siblings investigate their parents’ history and attempt to save the world.

The greatest feat of “Helstrom” is making magic, demons, the Catholic Church and serial murder seem boring. The generic supernatural elements fail to excite, the characters are one-dimensional at best, and the writing is laughably awful. This Hulu show is a far cry from the successful Marvel movies that earn billions in ticket sales every year. 

While the show does not live up to the high standards set by the MCU, “Helstrom” still underwhelms audiences all on its own. Nearly indistinguishable from other devilish mediocre shows like “Lucifer” or “Supernatural,” the new Hulu series can’t deliver even the most basic elements of spooky TV. While exorcisms are one of the most popular tropes in horror movies, “Hellstrom” somehow makes demonic possession boring. 

In most superhero movies and television shows, the hero or anti-hero is at least somewhat sympathetic or relatable. Despite the premiere’s constant reminders that Daimon and Ana have tough lives, their sarcastic dialogue is eye-roll-inducing rather than endearing. In trying to mimic Netflix’s Marvel successes of  “Daredevil” and “Jessica Jones,” the Hulu comic book adaptation recognizes the potential of its source material but can’t follow through with similar quality.

It quickly becomes apparent that “Helstrom” is not made for viewers; it’s made for a market. In a cultural climate where superheroes are king, production companies assume a Marvel-branded show is a safe bet for success. With elements of the MCU, the fantasy genre and campy TV demonology, “Helstrom” works on paper and checks off the boxes of target age groups and demographics. However, this catch-all marketing strategy rarely translates to good media.

“Helstrom” itself is poorly produced, but the larger trends in entertainment that it represents are undoubtedly more sinister than the show’s underdeveloped villains. No one asked for “Helstrom,” and I’m predicting few viewers will genuinely enjoy it. It’s unclear how exactly the decision was made to create this series or what gap in the market it thinks it’s filling. What is clear is that “Helstrom” is unlikely to equal the annual Marvel record-breakers.

Daily Arts Writer Anya Soller can be reached at anyasol@umich.edu.

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