Wide World of Horror: ‘Hell’ – the sun brings death just as readily as it does life

HellHell_(2011_film)_film_poster
Screenplay by Tim Fehlbaum, Oliver Kahl, & Thomas Wöbke
Directed by Tim Fehlbaum
Germany/Switzerland, 2011

Dirty, grimy, and dusty, that’s how best to describe Hell. The heat can be felt, the dryness of the film comes off of the screen like a hot summer day in Chicago. Tim Fehlbaum takes a very tactile approach with his film, daring the audience to feel what his characters are feeling. The horror of Hell is that when the characters are hot the viewer feels hot. When the characters are struggling with thirst the audience feels like it needs a drink of water. Herr Fehlbaum asks a lot out of the characters he, and his screenplay compatriots, have created for Hell. He asks just as much, if not more, out of his films audience.

The first ten or so minutes of Hell are the most important minutes in the film. They establish this world, this time, and this situation to great effect. When the sun finally appears it takes over the film. It overpowers everything else on the screen and creates an almost literal whiteout effect. There’s nothing as important to the world of Hell as the sun. The film makes sure the audience understands this by using the sun as a consistent source of disorientation. Its brightness obscures the viewer’s vision, and its rays of light force the viewer to focus on needs like water, instead of the story. Nothing lives in the sun of Hell, it’s not our sun after all. It’s a devilish sun, one that wants to take life away instead of offering up regeneration and renewal.

Hell-2011-movie-4The story of Hell is kind of a standard one. It’s not bad, nor is it great, the story in Hell just sort of happens and is pretty cool. That’s not the deepest of criticisms, but Hell isn’t really about any sort of traditional story. The story in hell exists as the backbone of something much larger. There’s little horror to be found in the journey of Marie to find her sister. Instead the horror the viewer experiences in Hell is that of the changing of people. The Earth of this film has changed and so have the people who inhabit our planet. They have become horrific because of the horrific conditions they are being forced to live in. The question then becomes, are people inherently evil or are they a product of their surroundings?

Hell doesn’t answer that question, or any of the other questions it raises. That’s okay though because the best horror is about imagesquestions and not answers. Instead of trying to solve the world’s problems Hell remains more interested in choking the life out of the viewer with a constant barrage of heat, light, and dryness. Breathing doesn’t come easy in Hell, life is a struggle, and the horror of this world is too easy to imagine becoming a reality.

-Bill Thompson

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