They say there are only seven basic stories in all of literature and film, and while the tally may be arguable the core truth remains. That means the key to making your story stand out rests in the details and what you choose to do with that otherwise familiar plot. Many films struggle on that front, but some instead take the opportunity to cut loose and deliver something truly memorable. Bloody Hell belongs in the latter camp as it presents the wildly violent and extremely funny adventure of a boy, a girl, and the cannibalistic Finnish family standing between them.
Rex (Ben O’Toole) is a free man after serving eight years for an act of gung-ho heroism that left four violent bank robbers and one innocent woman dead. The press and public are hounding him as both a hero and a “psycho twat,” so he heads to Finland for a bit of the ol’ rauha ja hiljaisuus. Peace and quiet aren’t on the menu, though, as he’s barely out of the airport when he’s abducted, gassed, and surprised to wake up in a dark basement with his right leg amputated beneath the knee. A twisted family of Finns have plans for his body as it turns out that it’s Rex who’s on the menu, but unfortunately for them, one leg is all he needs to kick their asses.
Bloody Hell does something truly extraordinary and unexpected in its first twenty minutes by hobbling its protagonist in a life-altering way. It’s no small challenge that director Alister Grierson and writer Robert Benjamin set for both Rex and themselves, but along with a charismatically intense and lively performance by O’Toole they deliver with a frenetic and occasionally bonkers tale of survival. The editing and time jumps threaten whiplash at times, but viewers who strap in are rewarded with a wonderfully wild ride.
O’Toole is the heart and soul of the film as he’s essentially playing two leads — Rex *and* Rex’s subconscious thoughts encouraging chaos or caution depending on the situation. As a creative way around the ever insidious voiceover narration it’s genius, but it also allows both the film and Rex to capture competing feelings amid messy situations. We see a cautious Rex egged on by his imagined doppelganger, but we also see that externalized inner voice encourage Rex at the brink of exhaustion and defeat. Our thoughts are sloppy, and the film captures those dueling impulses with a creative wit. Both versions of Rex run an emotional gamut including excitement, disbelief, fear, aggression, and affection, and O’Toole takes full advantage of scenes where he’s acting opposite himself.
Bloody Hell‘s pacing, energy, and humor leave little room for serious observations, but that doesn’t prevent it from including quick nods all the same. It’s mentioned that Rex’s inner voice first appeared while he was serving in Afghanistan, and the suggestion is it stemmed as a manifestation of PTSD. There’s also the question of what exactly a heroic morality entails — no one argues the impetus behind his efforts in the bank, but where does an act of heroism cross over into a simple thirst for violence? There are no answers here, but there arguably doesn’t need to be.
As imaginary Rex says at one point, the only story that matters here is the “big trouble in little Finland” that he’s found himself wrapped up in, and his efforts to escape this murderous family and their very, very hungry son is Rex’s main priority. It’s a serious tale of survival encased in blackly comic humor, maliciously creepy twins, and the most sweetly sensual stump-washing scene you’ve ever had the pleasure of witnessing. There’s even a damsel in distress whose presence adds another wrinkle into Rex’s moral challenge seeing as the last time he played hero for a woman he ended up behind bars.
From poppy beats showing the killer family on an afternoon bike ride to fun references to Stephen King’s Misery, Bloody Hell leans unabashedly comedic with its tale of carnage. The stakes still feel real enough, though, thanks again to both O’Toole’s performance and the film’s willingness to take something from the hero early on that can’t be regained. The spectre of fate is raised more than once as the thing to blame for Rex’s situation, but he and the film aren’t having it. He made choices, just as we all do, and we can either accept responsibility or continue hanging in place unsure when we’ll lose the next piece of ourselves to a sadistic family of misshapen Finns… okay I may have lost control of my metaphor there, but you get the idea. Listen to your inner voice and proceed accordingly.