Friday, June 23, 2023

Bingo Hell (Amazon, 2021)

Like Oz Rodriguez's horror comedy Vampires vs. the Bronx (2020 / trailer), Gigi Saul Guerrero's Bingo Hell is a horror comedy critique of a real-life horror that even hipsters of the type both movies don't like (i.e., people like we once were and you probably are) are falling victim to: gentrification. But whereas the mostly minority main characters of identification of Vampires vs. the Bronx are mostly low-income pubescents, the mostly minority main characters of identification of Bingo Hell are primarily financially precarious geriatrics (i.e., people like us now and what you probably will become).
Trailer to
Bingo Hell:
In Vampires vs. the Bronx, neoliberal gentrification was symbolized by vampires, an apt representation to say the least, while in Bingo Hell, gentrification and the allure of money are personified in the form of a business man from hell and cash with strings attached. In other words, if you get seduced by the offer of money — and what normal Joe or Jane in this world of one-sided riches cannot be bought? — you lose.
In general, Vampires vs. the Bronx is probably the quicker and funnier movie, and is definitely better-paced, but for that its entire style and presentation is much more generic and the movie remains little more than an enjoyable but ultimately forgettable romp. Bingo Hell, on the other hand, may likewise ultimately also be a minor but entertaining little comedy horror film, but it is also far less forgettable. Bingo Hell's biggest flaw is its pacing and the surprising lack of comedy for a "horror comedy" (and of the comedy that is present, much of it is amazingly dry).
On the other hand, it looks great and definitely has one of the more effective movie villains in a long time, Mr. Big (Richard Brake of Doom [2005 / trailer], Perkins' 14 [2009], 31 [2016 / trailer], Mandy [2018 / trailer] and so much more), who makes your skin crawl every time he's on screen. Brake inhabits his role so well that it is easy to believe that he must be the same (albeit without supernatural powers) in real life — but then, he conveys that in most films that he appears in.
Where Bingo Hell excels, however, is in its cinematography and use of lenses; unlike the fully functional, professionally sound but relatively generic filmic style of Vampires vs. the Bronx, for example, Bingo Hell often looks like an art film, particularly whenever the infectious evil of money rears its head to claim its next victim. The film even opens with one such scene, in which a man named Mario (David Jensen of The Mist [2007 / trailer], Jonah Hex [2010 / trailer] and Creature [2011 / trailer]) comes home to celebrate the sale of his bingo hall with the picture of his dead wife and, dancing alone to a catchy tune, suddenly starts eating bingo balls until he chokes to death. That dreams easily turn into nightmares is something we all have a penchant to forget.

The tale transpires in the rundown housing area of Oak Springs, which could be anywhere but, in real life, is some unnamed on-the-skids neighborhood of New Orleans. In her daily confrontation with advancing, displacing gentrification, Lupita (Adriana Barraza of And Soon the Darkness [2010 / trailer]), the feisty heart of the neighborhood, suddenly has to deal with her beloved bingo hall being replaced by a bingo hall from hell. The allure of quick riches enamors and seduces the low-income locals, who, unlike Lupita, are unable to see that winning big at Mr. Big's bingo hall means losing everything. But how can you fight and destroy a persuasive and immersive and seductive evil like that of cold, hard cash?

As already mentioned, Bingo Hall is not perfect in the narrative department: the pacing is uneven, with more than a couple of dry stretches, and the body count surprisingly low. For that, the cast that makes up the core circle of old timers around Lupita are a prime example of good character actors doing what they are supposed to do: believably embody their impoverished Jane- and John-Doe characters. You might not know much about them, but a lot is often revealed in a facial expression or a passing line of dialogue.
The deftness of the acting is equaled by director Gigi Saul "Hot Tamale" Guerrero's (that's her below) direction: she is not afraid to go arty and play with lighting and gels to convey a mood of the unnatural, but also knows not to overuse a good thing. Her framing and transitions are clear, forever aimed at telling the tale smoothly and clearly — it's a shame, however, that her directorial panache is not met equally by the narrative, which does have some timing and transition hiccups along the way. For that, the scriptwriters are not afraid to show their low-income, salt-of-the-earth characters warts and all, which helps make them all the more identifiable and realistic, if perhaps not always completely likable. For all its flash and style, Bingo Hell has heart — and more than just a few moments of shock and horror.
Photo found at Pin-Up Perfection
Bingo Hell is one of the second series of feature-length horror movies developed by Blumhouse Films for the Big Evil's streaming network as part of the Welcome to Blumhouse Amazon Prime Originals. For that, Bingo Hell never once feels like anything else than a better than average if truly idiosyncratic feature film that delivers almost everything its title promises. And it also really makes one excited to see where Gigi Saul Guerrero's directorial talents will take her in the future.

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