Some guys have all the luck. Too bad Rex (Ben O’Toole), leading man of Alister Grierson‘s Bloody Hell, isn’t one of them. All he wants is to live an ordinary life after a stint in the military, and a date with a pretty bank teller named Maddie (Ashlee Lollback). In one of his many trips to flirt in the guise of ordinary financial business, Rex finds himself caught in the middle of a bank robbery. Using his military training and the cool under fire advice of his PTSD induced alter ego, he manages to thwart the plot, but an innocent bystander dies in the conflict.
Rex serves an eight year prison sentence for the accidental death. Half the country thinks he’s a madman, the other half find him to be something of a folk hero. The passage of time hasn’t dulled the tabloids’ curiosity as to what really happened, and Rex is hounded by the paparazzi after his release. Finding infamy to be his own personal hell, Rex capriciously disappears off to Finland in hopes of a fresh start.
Instead of a restful vacation, he finds himself bound and bloody in a dingy foreign basement, one of his extremities freshly removed. At risk of bleeding out and an ocean away from home, Rex has to figure out how to escape his kidnappers. Alia (Meg Fraser), the reticent (and seemingly more kindhearted) daughter of his captors might be his only hope.
None of this is typical territory for a horror comedy, and the first act of the movie is a busy barrage of plot elements. Bloody Hell is almost a guided tour of the cinematic trends of the early 2000s, from heist flicks and the torture porn boom to raucous travelogue based comedies and Rex’s Tyler Durden style subconscious split. Right when Robert Benjamin’s rapid fire Ozsploitation style script is threatening to teeter into chaos, Bloody Hell makes the smart choice of slowing down a notch. Once Rex is trapped in the basement, the film places its weight firmly on the shoulders (and shirtless torso) of its star.
Luckily Ben O’Toole as Rex is more than up to the task. Both sides of Rex’s psyche have distinct personalities, and careful editing makes it easy to forget that roughly a third of the film’s total runtime is an imperiled man talking to himself. “Real” Rex is in alternate turns realistically paniced and dryly witty, while his alter ego is simultaneously far more impulsively hotheaded and cooler under pressure. Other than some short carefully curated flashbacks regarding what really happened that day at the bank, and Alia’s checkered history with her murderous family, the entire middle section of the film is essentially a solo showcase, and the actor absolutely nails the duality of Rex’s persona.
This is a confident, extremely charismatic performance, and some of Bloody Hell‘s weaker jokes and silliest plot points work because of O’Toole’s characterization and timing. Be it dated one liners about veganism or one of the goriest meet cutes in recent cinematic memory, Rex is so easy to root for that a level of tongue in cheek goofiness that would tank a lesser performer stays in the realm of breezy, bloody fun.
The few scenes where Rex is off screen are less compelling, if only because Alia and her family are not nearly as fleshed out as characters. With so many other odd twists and turns in the plot, there just isn’t time for a lot of sophisticated backstory. The villains in the film are perhaps a touch too cartoonish. Their motivations are a nice departure from expectations, but the family is still very clearly earmarked for some violent comeuppance in the final act. The scenes we spend with them are mostly just a waiting game to see exactly how their grisly deaths will play out.
Bloody Hell isn’t the sort of film that needs an undue amount of big thematic grace notes. It’s a stylishly shot for the budget film, with a fun score, an appealing star and a unique mix of horror, comedy and action elements that standout in the crowd of recent splatstick efforts. The movie is unapologetic about its genre trappings and delivers gory set pieces and belly laughs with equal faculty. Irreverent, high energy and a surefire hit on the midnight circuit, Bloody Hell is a bloody good time.