Fantasia Festival: Hellbender (2021)

John Adams, Zelda Adams, Toby Poser

Running Time: 83 Minutes

Starring: Zelda Adams, Toby Poser, Lulu Adams, John Adams, Rinzin Thonden, Khenzom, Shawn Wilson

Teenage life is hard enough, though what if it had to be experienced while isolated deep in the mountains? This is what Izzy (Zelda Adams) faces, living her days with only her mother (Toby Poser) for company. This lonely life is a concentrated effort to keep Izzy away from other people, both for her own protection and that of others. As she begins growing into herself, Izzy becomes interested in venturing into town and spending time with others, while discovering her families mysterious ties to witchcraft.

A story of supernatural growing pains anchored in relatable material, the talented Zelda Adams and Toby Poser wonderfully capture the bond between mother and daughter. They're best friends who play music in their band, and though they enjoy each others company, this isn't enough for the teenager. When her paths cross with neighbour Amber (Lulu Adams), Izzy sees the possibilities for friendship with somebody her own age. While this allows a way to showcase her drumming skills, it also acts as a gateway to the dangerous potential for Izzy's magic, unlocking doors which may forever change things.

Constantly looking out for her daughter, Mother wants what's best for Izzy while trying to keep her out of danger. She hopes the teenager can live a life away from the dangers of the world, carving a better path for Izzy to live by doing whatever possible to keep their location secret. It's an interesting take on the nature vs nurture debate, questioning whether ones temperament can be changed or whether suppressing it is a temporary measure.

Most exciting is how much the Adams family pour into this product, serving roles as writers, directors, actors, musicians, and doing them all so excellently. This is DIY filmmaking which makes the most of so little in this occult coming-of-age tale, crafted with such visual ingenuity. While some limitations may pop up, these are rarities within such an assured feature.

In such a tight runtime, the fantastical premise is effortlessly captured with a rich mythology woven in. It's a tale unafraid to have fun and subsequently break your heart, equally joyous and menacing, as each element works marvellously. In short, the Adams family have crafted a real testament to independent filmmaking.

Hellbender has its World Premiere at Fantasia Festival 2021