They say there are only seven basic stories in all of literature and film, and while the bottom line may be questionable, the core truth remains. That said, the key to making your story stand out is in the details and in what you do with this otherwise familiar plot. Lots of films struggle on this front, but some instead take the opportunity to break up and deliver something really memorable. Bloody hell belongs in the latter camp as it depicts the wildly violent and extremely funny adventure of a boy, a girl, and the cannibalist Finnish family that stands between them.
Rex (Ben O’Toole) is a free man after serving eight years in an act of gung-ho heroism that resulted in the death of four violent bank robbers and an innocent woman. The press and the public haunt him both as a hero and as a “Psycho Twat”, so he travels to Finland to eat some old Rauha ja Hiljaisuus. Quiet is not on the menu, however, as he’s barely gone from the airport when he’s kidnapped, gassed, and surprised to wake up in a dark basement with his right leg amputated below the knee. A twisted family of Finns have plans for his body when it turns out Rex is on the menu, but unfortunately it only takes one leg to kick their asses.
Bloody Hell does something really extraordinary and unexpected for the first twenty minutes by limping its protagonist in a life-changing way. It’s no small challenge as a director Alister Grierson and writers Robert Benjamin They are made for both Rex and themselves, but together with a charismatically intense and lively performance from O’Toole, they deliver a frenetic and occasionally insane survival story. The editing and time jumps sometimes threaten whiplash, but spectators who buckle up are rewarded with a wonderfully wild ride.
O’Toole is the heart and soul of the film as it essentially plays two main roles – Rex * and * Rex ‘unconscious thoughts which, depending on the situation, lead to chaos or caution. As a creative way to get around the always insidious voice-over narration, it’s awesome, but it allows both the film and Rex to capture competing emotions in chaotic situations. We see a cautious Rex stimulated by his imaginary doppelganger, but we also see the externalized inner voice encouraging Rex on the verge of exhaustion and defeat. Our thoughts are sloppy and the film captures these dueling impulses with creative wit. Both versions of Rex have an emotional range including excitement, disbelief, fear, aggression, and affection, and O’Toole takes full advantage of scenes in which he acts toward himself.
The pace, energy, and humor of Bloody Hell leave little room for serious observation, but that doesn’t stop her from nodding quickly anyway. It is mentioned that Rex’s inner voice first appeared during his service in Afghanistan, and the suggestion is that it originated as a manifestation of PTSD. The question also arises, what exactly does heroic morality mean – nobody argues the impetus for their efforts in the bank, but where does heroism turn into a simple thirst for violence? There are no answers here, but there may not be any.
As the imaginary Rex says at one point, the only story that matters here is the “big problem in little Finland” he is involved in and his efforts to escape this murderous family and their very, very hungry son, are top priority for Rex. It’s a serious survival story surrounded by black and white humor, maliciously creepy twins, and the cutest sensual butt-washing scene you’ve ever seen. There’s even a woman in need whose presence exacerbates Rex’s moral challenge, since the last time he played as a hero for a woman he ended up behind bars.
From poppy seed beats depicting the killer family on an afternoon bike ride to hilarious references to Stephen King’s misery, Bloody Hell leans blatantly hilariously with its tale of slaughter. Thanks to O’Toole’s performance and the movie’s willingness to take something from the hero early on that cannot be regained, the stakes still feel real enough. The Specter of Destiny has been cited more than once as being to blame for Rex’s situation, but he and the movie don’t have it. Like all of us, he made decisions and we can either take responsibility or remain unsure if we 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 act accordingly.