I’ve never claimed to be the sharpest knife in the drawer, and there’s plenty of evidence to prove that I’m not. Case in point, the hilariously titled new horror film “Bingo Hell”. Embarrassingly, it wasn’t until the neon lit title screen that I made the bingo HALL connection. It turns out that wasn’t the only chuckle I would get out of this just released Amazon Studios Original.
Directed by Gigi Saul Guerrero, “Bingo Hell” is the fifth installment of Amazon’s “Welcome to the Blumhouse” horror anthology. As the name intimates, the series of feature films are developed and produced by Jason Blum’s Blumhouse productions and highlight stories told from filmmakers with fresh visions and perspectives. As with any ambitious endeavor like this, you have your hits and misses. But I appreciate what it’s doing, hiccups and all.
“Bingo Hall” is an interesting entry. It’s a brisk and straightforward movie with enough genre flourish to keep horror fans interested. It’s also laced with a fair amount lightly breaded social commentary on class, community, the allure of money, gentrification, etc. Not all of it makes sense nor does it come across as anything especially new or revelatory. But it does offer a unique perspective and its cast of likable characters help overlook some of the storytelling issues.
The story is set in the sleepy little fictional town of Oak Springs. It’s a place where development companies are buying up property and homes while many of the decades-old hometown businesses are closing up shop. The changing landscape doesn’t sit well with some of the town’s old-timers, especially Lupita (Adriana Barraza), a surly and outspoken local who simmers at the influx of coffee shops, vape lounges and the young hipsters who frequent them. Oak Springs is her life, and she’s not about to let it dry up without a fight.
To let off steam Lupita, her best friend Dolores (L. Scott Caldwell), and a fun assortment of other elderly townsfolk enjoy bingo at the town community center. But you know it’s trouble when a fancy black sedan rolls into town with pitch-black tinted windows and a license plate that reads “BIG WINN3R”. The car belongs to a sinister looking cat who goes by the name of Mr. Big (a fittingly creepy Richard Brake). Lupita and her friends learn that Mr. Big has purchased the community center and seemingly over night turns it into a bingo hall with enough flashing neon inside and out to rival anything on the Las Vegas strip.
His glaringly evil look and the movie’s title let us know that Mr. Big is up to no good. Soon his fancy parlor and high stakes bingo games are luring in citizens from all around the city. And as you can guess, the big winners of his games don’t get to enjoy their winnings for very long. In fact, winning gets you a briefcase full of money and a gory death at the hands of this poorly defined supernatural menace. Just who is Mr. Big? What’s he after? What’s with all the green goo that had me thinking about Slimer from “Ghostbusters”? I still don’t know. He throws out a couple of generic lines about feeding on souls, buts that’s about it. Clear as mud.
While Guerrero does a good job early on introducing us to her characters and setting up her story, the buildup to the predictably inevitable ending feels remarkably light. It consists of a lot of elderly bickering but little in terms of development or revelation. The performances liven up the characters and there are some really good interactions between them. It’s hard not to enjoy their individual charms and there is some fun humor that seeps out of their relationships.
Guerrero also shows a good eye behind the camera. She uses a captivating blend of angles, perspectives, and color palettes that really speaks to some of her influences. But “Bingo Hell” needs more than sharp visuals and fun characters. The story is all buildup but little payoff. It introduces a menacing villain, but he’s too thinly sketched to feel like a real threat and we’re left wondering about him rather than being spooked.
So “Bingo Hell” is flawed and doesn’t quite fulfill the potential it shows early on. Yet I’m glad I watched it. It’s hard to let some of the nagging issues slide, but it does have some alluring traits and clever filmmaking touches that show why Guerrero is considered by many to be a young talent to keep your eye on. “Bingo Hell” is now available to stream on Amazon Prime.