By: Brendan Graham
Last year, Blumhouse invited us all to experience an anthological-style horror event known as “Welcome to the Blumhouse.” Four different films from different directors each showcased a similar theme of family as a savior or even a curse. Two films at a time were released on Amazon Prime Video, billed as double features that aimed to take audiences to uncomfortable places. This year, Blumhouse brought us back for another collection of flicks that aimed to showcase the horrors of the institution, as well as reflect on more personal fears. This second round of films begins with BINGO HELL, a film that clumsily runs with the idea of trying to win big and the evils of greed.
Things are changing in the town of Oak Springs, and elderly citizen Lupita (Adriana Barraza) doesn’t like it one bit. She’s a fiery, stubborn older woman who is very resistant to the gentrification happening in her once lively neighborhood. Homes are being bought up by eager real estate agents, and shops are closing their doors for good. More frustrating for her, places like vape shops and hipster coffee joints are popping up, and she makes it quite clear that she doesn’t welcome their kind here by bumping into a coffee shop patron and causing her to spill coffee all over.
While she can be a firecracker, Lupita has strong ties to her neighbors, like Dolores (L. Scott Caldwell), her hairstylist Yolanda (Bertila Damas), and the wisecracking town mechanic Clarence (Grover Coulson), and is willing to fight change in order to preserve the life she’s become accustomed to - including their community game night of bingo. This particular bingo night, the power gets cut, and the next day the bingo hall has been bought up by a slimy, untrustworthy gentleman named Mr. Big (Richard Brake). When winners start disappearing, and dying in horrific ways, Lupita quickly realizes that she needs to protect her community and help them fight off this demon of greed.
BINGO HELL is an interesting genre piece with familiar themes. You’ve got the small town that is down on its luck, with citizens that are struggling to get by or who are looking for a change in their luck, so they can get out of town. You’ve got the hot-headed protagonist who refuses to accept change. We’ve even got the big shot outsider who tries to manipulate the town with money in order to fulfill his nefarious desires. The story itself doesn’t feel as fresh, but stylistically it does succeed.
Director Gigi Saúl Guerrero throws some humor into the mix, relatable characters, and a villain that is just infectiously fun to watch. Barraza absolutely nails the role of Lupita, her fierce energy really boosts the experience, and her dedication to her character shines through, especially when things start getting messy. Brake is a fantastic villain, and you can really tell he had a lot of fun with this role. The special effects are fantastic as well. All the gooey, gory deaths are rather short, but still go into some nasty detail.
While entertaining in a B-Movie sense, BINGO HELL struggles with the pacing and length of the film. It doesn’t have quite enough to say to carry it through its 85 minutes run time. The narrative arc feels flat, and as we’re seeing the fruits of Mr. Big’s master plan, it feels too formulaic and predictable. While I do applaud Brake’s performance, the character himself isn’t terribly intimidating, and as we see each winner get picked off, it lacks effectiveness beyond the gore. Honestly, I think this story would have been better saved for an anthology show, like Creepshow, and condensed down to 45 minutes.
Like with many of the other "Welcome to the Blumhouse" features, BINGO HELL goes for style over substance. It has important messages to tell that get muddied by a runtime that the story can’t fully support. However, its goofiness and gooey gore are endearing enough to make it worth a watch. Double feature it with another Blumhouse feature, or something like The Stuff.
BINGO HELL and the rest of the "Welcome to the Blumhouse" collection are available to stream on Amazon Prime Video now.