'Bingo Hell' calls a winning number in terms of late-night horror that drips with commentary and grossness and lets grannies kick some evildoer butts.
- ⭕ Grey hair isn't a horror death sentence
- ⭕ It's fun and yucky
- ⭕ Gigi Saul Guerrero has such a bright energy
- ⭕ The story feels restricted
- ⭕ Needed more time in the oven
- ⭕ Hits its ceiling over and over
I dig Gigi Saul Guerrero’s Bingo Hell because senior citizens are allowed to maintain leading roles — typically, grandparents or silver-haired psychics serve their purpose by spilling dangerous exposition then POOF, vanish. Here, they kick ass and clean Barrio streets.
The collaborative screenplay between Guerrero, Shane McKenzie and Perry Blackshear summons a demonic bingo game that’s as much about cultural erasures through gentrification as it is the corruption of fortune, told using characters sidelined in most other comparable tales. Horror so often chooses young adult protagonists who can easily get blindsided by their immaturity or inexperience — Guerrero’s cleverness in Bingo Hell is empowering wrinkled hairdressers and mechanics who’ve built a community that’s thicker than blood. Plus, we get to watch a spunky old lady in a “gangster headband” mock some obnoxious coffee shop hipsters guzzling $10 mocha-whatever swill.
Lupita (Adriana Barraza) is one of the matriarchs of Oak Springs, a community in flux as local landowners keep selling their shops or homes in exchange for corporate paychecks. Microbreweries replace storefronts; vape shops attract outsider clientele. The only sanctuary for Lupita and her old folks squad is their recreational center bingo night, but even that gets shut down.
Enter Mr. Big (Richard Brake), whose Las Vegas-style attraction brings a showman’s bravado that becomes even more enticing when monetary prizes into the millions are on the table. Lupita plans to rage against Mr. Big’s machine, but even her best friend Dolores (L. Scott Caldwell) grabs a bingo card in hopes of winning the jackpot, which comes at an unspoken price.
Brake’s performance as Mr. Big is perfect casting, right down to his crooked smile that plasters dimples wider than a Joker comic cover. No better ringleader drips sleaze and schmoozable charisma than Brake, as he announces numbers off ping pong balls or collects $100 vouchers from unsuspecting victims. There’s zero question that this devious man in black is pure game show evil, which Lupita presumes simply by glimpsing his “B1G W1NN3R” license plate. That’s Brake's superpower — he’s a projection of unrighteousness and malevolence hidden behind the snakiest salesman’s elusive charms, and believable to the point of getting away with literal murder. Mr. Big is no exception because all Brake requires is a microphone and attentive crowds to flow frozen chills.
Mr. Big’s neon marquee juxtaposes against the modest, ghost town feel of Oak Springs, where Lupita’s crew resides. Dolores’ grandson Caleb (Joshua Caleb Johnson) grumbles about the desolate nature of Oak Springs because nothing ever happens, and he’s right — but that’s the enduring message of Bingo Hell.
Lupita and Dolores spend hours per day gossiping in Yolanda’s (Bertila Damas) barebones salon or bantering across bingo tables as buddies Clarence (Grover Coulson) and Morris (Clayton Landey) slug domestic lagers from Clarence’s portable cooler. These are where they make their memories, without delusionary accessories or gadgets. A sprier Lupita and Dolores once chased away Oak Springs gang activities and helped wayward adolescents like Eric (Jonathan Medina) kick their addiction habits. Now everything Lupita protected and protects faces corporate whitewashing and demolition, which as Guerrero illustrates, can inspire futility given how greedy billionaire conglomerates only value Oak Springs as maximizable profits.
That’s not to claim themes throughout Bingo Hell haven’t been explored ad nauseam inside and outside horror cinema — Blindspotting is unbeatable as gentrification commentary. Guerrero’s never competing with such titles since Mr. Big’s bingo damnation spreads like an infection that creates zombies dotting boards as preyed-upon fantasies devour their souls. The inky stamp Mr. Big uses to dye dollar signs on each contestant's hand peels tainted skin off like a hot brand, and the few characters we see killed on-screen are dispatched with bloodlust brutality. Guerrero uses a sloppy verde sludge that slathers on Mr. Big’s cash giveaways to represent some vile decomposition as a literal representation of how money fades away once we’ve passed onward. There’s a sense of raucousness and ickiness that Guerrero achieves, which brightens the sometimes meager production design — on par with other Blumhouse direct-to-stream franchises like Into The Dark — and is beyond necessary. It’s the mark of a horror director knowing what accents can elevate your indie budget and executing character executions with standout appeal.
Bingo Hell isn’t superbly polished — methinks tight turnarounds might be a culprit based on a few hurried scenes — although that doesn’t stop Guerrero from bringing entertainment to folkloric urbanization. Oak Springs wafts a richness that smells of cheap tequila, musty event spaces and Satan’s cologne, as America’s least dangerous game becomes a queasy-comical metaphor. It’s a deeper narrative than modest visuals showcase and relishes excessiveness whenever possible, whether that’s glittery stage shimmers or television monitors with Mr. Big’s smiling logo. Even better, we get to see Lupita’s fantastically spirited crew roll in and challenge their invader for the Oak Springs they fought to defend decades before — who doesn’t aspire to feel a glimmer of societal hope in today’s day and age?
You can stream Bingo Hell on Amazon Prime Video starting on Oct. 1.
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