Bingo Hell Movie Review: A horror-comedy-thriller of exceptional proportions
A unique horror premise that speaks to the many social and economic ills of our time
Gigi Saul Guerrero’s Bingo Hell, a horror-comedy-thriller is one engaging ride, no two ways about it! Touching upon essential subjects as gentrification, the need for community, and the disastrous effects of widespread capitalism, all seen through the prism of a horror narrative, Bingo Hell is the kind of film that promises to stay with you.
Adriana Barraza’s Hispanic protagonist Lupita, the feisty and thoroughly endearing senior-citizen-protector of their once-golden (in the truest sense) neighbourhood, is the highlight of the story. The tough-talking African American grandma/mother-in-law, Dolores (L. Scott Caldwell), who shares an often-hilarious love-hate relationship with the former, adds to the film’s entertainment value.
Director - Gigi Saul Guerrero
Cast – Adriana Barraza, L. Scott Caldwell, Richard Brake, Joshua Caleb Johnson
Streaming On – Amazon Prime Video
The horror aspect – absurd and surreal in equal measure, even as it makes a telling political statement – could well be interpreted as an allegory. This allegory is critical of the sheer scale of gentrification today, succeeding in driving residents (who once made a hard-earned living) out of their own neighbourhoods.
The big, bad Bingo business usurping the old, community-style hall (used not merely for the popular game for seniors, but for activities such as group therapy too), falls in line with the aforementioned metaphor. Another interesting element of the horror premise is that it refrains from going into how the new Mr BIG$ BINGO (and its eponymous owner) has received its power. Something about taking souls, a red dollar stamp on people who either enter the establishment of their own volition or are lured into it (the promise of winning big, always close at hand), a green jelly-like substance pervading the scenes – this is all we get! The lesser explained about the unknown, insidious force, the better, as it appears. All things considered, it works, and works well for Bingo Hell.
The bonds showcased throughout the story make it such a worthwhile watch; a case for a wry, standalone comedy-drama could be argued as well. Lupita is the badass old bird bent upon saving the precious few who have chosen to brave the new hipster influence of her beloved, once-impoverished Oak Springs neighbourhood. It may have been poor back in the day, but one thing it did possess was oodles of spirit and a strong sense of community. Everybody knew everybody, and they were quick to lend a helping hand when things turned bad. The disdain Lupita has for the new economic order is made abundantly clear in one of the very first scenes. While muttering to herself about “these hipsters and their coffee shops and tanning salons”, she deliberately knocks into a young “hipster” woman with a hot beverage in hand, and has a right royal chuckle in her face. Her few remaining friends run the local beauty salon and auto shop.
What makes the protagonist equally annoying and endearing is her unabashed ability to call a spade a spade. She fails to spare anyone in this regard, even her best pal. Small interpersonal relationships are explored within the short runtime, like, for instance, the situation at Dolores’ house. She lost her son to an illness years ago, and her unstable/unemployed white daughter-in-law comes visiting with her grandson when they’re in want...of a roof or money, or both. It is a depressing situation (with Lupita never shy of a word or two on the subject), but Dolores is as tough as they come. She tries her best to protect her grandkid, Caleb (Joshua Caleb Johnson), but is quick to call out her son’s wife on her BS. Dolores is a beautifully-sketched supporting character, playing the perfect foil to our blustery protagonist with her relentless shenanigans.
What makes Bingo Hell a worthy film is its writing. We empathise with the old guard...those who have lived in Oak Springs for donkey’s years, those who saw it take shape as a community of good, well-meaning people.
Mr BIG (Richard Brake) takes advantage of the residents’ desperation for a better life. He tempts them with fast riches (many strings attached, as we are to understand soon enough) from his Bingo business. Greed and temptation are the real apparitions here. No greater demons/devils than those two, especially in an economically crumbling infrastructure. His presence in the story is merely for representational purposes. What he stands for, what he’s willing to take (if you fall prey to his grand plans), speaks to the evils of widespread inequality being witnessed by people the world over. Money rules the roost! Period.
Dignity, self-respect, principles, love for community, sisterhood/brotherhood, and so on, are much lower on the totem pole, and shall sadly remain so, till further notice. A horror-comedy that references several of these larger truths, while being light and feisty in equal measure, has my full respect. Kudos to Gigi Saul Guerrero, Adriana Barraza, L. Scott Caldwell and all those associated with this ingeniously conceived project!