Sundance 2013 Review: Hell Baby

'Funny is funny, and Hell Baby is very, very funny.'

William Bibbianiby William Bibbiani

For over thirty years now, the Sundance Film Festival has been a safe haven for serious, experimental and groundbreaking motion pictures. Movies that touch the soul, challenge the mind and help redefine the very medium of cinema, that’s what we’re here for. So let me tell you all about Hell Baby, a goofball horror comedy whose thematic subtext essentially boils down to, “Jokes are funny!”

Hell Baby stars Rob Corddry and Leslie Bibb as a happily married couple who pat themselves on the back for buying a giant house in the current economy, only to discover that – duh – it’s haunted. Bibb gets possessed, starts drinking paint thinner for recreation even though she’s nine months pregnant and slaughters the occasional interloper, but Corddry is a little too loving to think anything is really wrong. She’s pregnant, she naturally has cravings and mood swings, so what if she claws chunks out of his chest now and again? Meanwhile, two agents from the Vatican, Thomas Lennon and Robert Ben Garant, are en route to save the day, but are consistently sidetracked by delicious po’ boys and merrily be-tasseled strippers.

So Hell Baby is not, exactly, this year’s Sex, Lies, and Videotape. It is, however, a small triumph of independence. Co-stars Lennon and Garant are famous screenwriters who worked on numerous studio-driven products like Night at the Museum and Herbie: Fully Loaded. They even wrote a book on how to work within the studio system and make a living as a screenwriter, as opposed to most books, which focus on how to write a well-structured script in an industry vacuum. They are used to working with ridiculous studio notes and producing aggressively mainstream product. Hell Baby, although it’s certainly a commercial piece of broad entertainment, is the first film they have actually produced on their own terms, writing and directing it together. It would be an exaggeration to say that it’s the next Blazing Saddles or anything, but it’s fair to call it a genuinely hilarious farce.

It’s sad, in fact, that a film as directly comedic as Hell Baby feels so refreshing in the current motion picture environment. Broad comedies nowadays mostly seem to belong to the generally inept “spoof” category, or brainless family fare (some of which, in all fairness, Hell Baby’s filmmakers are at least partially responsible for themselves), and movies starring Adam Sandler. Hell Baby doesn’t quite fit in any of those genres. It’s a horror comedy, with the comedy outweighing the horror by at least 20%, and although the plot is reminiscent of films like Rosemary’s Baby and The Shining, the humor doesn’t rely on references to other – and almost universally better – movies to fill time. Cut out the jokes, make the lighting spookier, and it’s a real horror film (although not a particularly amazing one). Insert jokes, and the somewhat serious horror tropes increase audience involvement a bit when things get wacky.

The tone is consistently wacky enough, in fact, that the funniest moments often come when the characters momentarily take themselves seriously. Watching Lennon and Garant act like a total badasses is a joy, and watching Corddry’s genuine affection for his wife makes her exaggerated testing of their relationship boundaries all the more amusing. It even averts any serious accusations of sexism – unlike A Haunted House – by establishing the demonized wife as a genuinely cool human being, whose turn has no other explanation besides supernatural nonsense. Hell Baby introduces a string of memorable, likable characters who carry the film during the occasional slow patch (not every joke can be a winner), and are occasionally open to glorious full-frontal nudity. Really, truly, glorious full-frontal nudity. (Wistful sigh…)

Hell Baby doesn’t amount to much on its own, besides a lot of laughter, and that’s just fine. It’s the story behind the film that makes it something special, a minor triumph for dedicated entertainers who finally got to make the movie they wanted. Sure, it doesn’t reinvent the wheel after their anarchic sketch comedy show “The State,” but funny is funny, and Hell Baby is very, very funny.

Sundance 2013 Review: Hell Baby

Photo Credit: Sundance Institute

Make sure to check out all of Crave Online's coverage of the 2013 Sundance Film Festival here!

And check out these other reviews from Sundance 2013:

Who is Dayani Cristal?; starring Gael Garcia Bernal
Two Mothers; starring Robin Wright and Naomi Watts
Austenland; starring Keri Russell
Emmanuel and the Truth About Fishes; starring Kaya Scodelario
Don Jon's Addiction; starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Scarlett Johansson
Virtually Heroes; produced by Roger Corman
Breathe In; starring Felicity Jones and Guy Pierce
Inequality for All; featuring Robert Reich
Blue Caprice; starring Isaiah Washington and Tim Blake Nelson
Fill the Void; starring Renana Raz
Running From Crazy; featuring Mariel Hemingway
Wrong Cops; starring Steve Little
Stoker; starring Nicole Kidman
Escape from Tomorrow; shot without permits at Disney World
Before Midnight; starring Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy
We Are What We Are; starring Ambyr Childers and Julia Garner
Afternoon Delight; starring Kathryn Hahn and Juno Temple
Ass Backwards; starring Casey Wilson and June Diane Raphael
I Used to Be Darker; starring Deragh Campbell
Magic Magic; starring Juno Temple
Prince Avalanche; starring Paul Rudd and Emile Hirsch
Sweetwater; starring January Jones, Jason Isaacs and Ed Harris
Crystal Fairy; starring Michael Cera and Gaby Hoffman
S-VHS; sequel to found footage horror film V/H/S
Lovelace; starring Amanda Seyfried, Peter Sarsgaard and Sharon Stone
The East; starring Brit Marling and Alexander Saarsgaard
After Tiller, about abortion doctor George Tiller
Citizen Koch, about The Koch Brothers and campaign finance contributions
Gangs of Wasseypur, a 5 1/2 hour Indian crime epic
In Fear, a horror movie set entirely within a car
The Rambler, starring Dermot Mulroney
What They Don't Talk About When They Talk About Love, about a school for the blind and deaf
Upstream Color; starring Shane Carruth and Amy Seimetz


William Bibbiani is the editor of CraveOnline's Film Channel, the co-host of The B-Movies Podcast and the co-star of The Trailer Hitch. Follow him on Twitter at @WilliamBibbiani.