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Film Review: Hex (2018)

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SYNOPSIS:

A couple’s holiday romance is thrown into chaos as they are afflicted by a malicious force.

REVIEW:

Hex comes to us from South African director Rudolf Buitendach; set in the idyllic landscape of Cambodia, this 2018 movie opens with Western brothers Ben and Isaac Trepanier chatting on a gorgeous beach while dropping some exposition about how the need to recover from his father’s funeral in Boston has led him here. Within minutes Ben (Kelly Blatz) is – under the guise of saving her from being ripped off by a local tuk-tuk driver – hitting on fellow American Amber (Jenny Boyd), encouraged by Isaac who, given his cut-price Jason Statham impression, we assume is British. Amber gives Ben the cold shoulder in no short order, but he has clearly left an impression as she seeks him out later on in a local bar – and what’s this, she’s happened to bring along a sinister little trinket she’s found that was commonly used in human sacrifices….

Ben’s lucky streak continues as within hours he and Amber are sharing their first date; and a little later still back at her lodgings she stuns him by getting her kit off almost instantly, but somehow they both manage to keep things in their respective pants until another day. Regardless, Ben’s clearly smitten as he professes his attraction to Amber the next day to Isaac and yet another brother, Dan. Later on Ben happens to see Amber being molested in the street by a somewhat sleazy-looking Western guy; of course he’s straight to her defence which results in a little handbag-slapping kind of street fight, followed by a brief chase through the Cambodian streets during which Mr Sleaze has found himself a machete. Our two young lovers escape, and the adrenaline sure does seem to put Amber in the mood as within seconds she has Ben’s pants round his ankles and is giving the lucky boy a special treat of the oral variety!

Obviously by now, despite advice from his brothers and friends to be careful in an unfamiliar culture, Ben is smitten; that night he and Amber head for a local rave, where things start to become more sinister. The least astute viewer will by now have picked up on the fact there’s something a little off about Amber; even if Ben doesn’t – but hey ho, it would be a short movie if he dumped her after their first date. Even Ben starts to think something’s up though when he finds some intimate photos on Amber’s phone of her and her room mate, before he blacks out in a drunken (or drugged?) stupor; but before he can speak to Amber our machete-wielding friend turns up with some accomplices, ready to give Ben a thorough working over – but they don’t land many punches before something unseen starts tossing them around the room like rag dolls…. and before too long Dan’s looking at being a potential murder suspect. By now the movie has started to show its hand in the supernatural side of things; unfortunately the direction things are heading in is not particularly difficult to figure out, especially when we see Amber’s massive scar which turns out to be from her separation from her dead conjoined twin.

Hex is a very handsome movie; admittedly it would be almost impossible to make an unattractive film given the incredibly beautiful Cambodian scenery, but some precise and fluid camera work really does make the screen pop. Throughout its length the movie manages to foster a creeping undercurrent of subtle tension, using some carefully considered effects shots, and juxtaposes the airiness of the glowingly bright exterior scenes with the shadowy gloom of the interior ones.

It’s reminiscent in place of several other (and to be honest much better) movies; there’s a scene where an unseen force physically molests Amber, which brings to mind The Entity; some of the quieter moments recall the mood of creeping dread invoked in The Serpent And The Rainbow; and an almost cartoonish scene of strangulation by car seatbelt which feels like an out-take from The Omen. And of course like many a recent horror the makers feel the need to crowbar in a Ringu-style shot of a creepy female with eyes obscured by long straight hair just, you know, because.

One of the biggest problems (which to be fair any movie with a runtime barely longer than eighty minutes would struggle with) is that it’s very hard to buy Amber and Ben’s developing relationship – everything happens so swiftly that it’s just one barely connected scene after another. And it’s difficult to like any of the characters; Ben is basically a walking set of abs and a jawline, with nary a personality in sight. Jenny Boyd brings plenty to the table as Amber though, effectively portraying her as veering between confused, scared, creepy and wrathfully angry.

The finale is a bit of a let down unfortunately, being built up to with an increasing list of horror clichés being chucked into the pot (arcane symbols; sinister chanting; untrustworthy locals; sacrificial goats; check, check, check and check) before opting for a low-rent CGI number that feels slightly ridiculous and at odds with the mood of the preceding movie. But that being said I actually found myself kind of liking Hex; it’s brief and to the point, and always great to look at; and while never truly scary does manage to raise the hairs on the back of the neck a few times.

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