Format: Streaming video from Amazon Prime on Fire!
One of the things I like about horror movies is that they don’t really take a lot of set up to make them work. Sure, you can do a lot of work and really go for the deep scares with an eye toward giving your audience an existential crisis, but you definitely don’t have to do that. You can instead put your characters into a scary situation (or a dangerous one) and see what they do. That’s a big part of a film like Bingo Hell, that doesn’t have any real pretense beyond entertaining the audience.
In the community of Oak Springs, the residents tend to be older, and have been there for a long time. For them, evenings are often spent at the local bingo hall, but that’s about to change in some respects. As the film starts, the owner of the bingo hall, Mario (David Jensen). Mario has just sold the bingo hall, and as he packs up his money and his belongings, he starts eating what appear to be bingo balls. He keeps it up until he chokes himself.
The next day, the bingo hall has been transformed into something much more akin to a casino run by a man who calls himself Mr. Big (Richard Brake). The locals still come to play, but this time, the big winner of the night is taking home stacks of cash--$10,000 or $100,000—and then vanishing. No one really seems to notice that things have gone pear shaped except for Lupita (Adriana Barraza), the woman who has done more to keep the community together than anyone else.
Of course, it’s not hard for us as the audience to see what is happening. You’ve actually seen this movie a number of times, more than likely. This is similar to the plot of a book/movie like Needful Things, where the people of a given town are enticed by their hearts’ desire into essentially selling their souls. In the case of Bingo Hell, it’s a lot more direct. People are selling their souls for a suitcase full of cash, and the people who bought those souls come to collect almost immediately.
Bingo Hell covers a lot of ground that has been tread on by earlier movies. There are shades here not only of Needful Things in the soul-selling aspect, but films like Vampires vs. the Bronx and even modern classics like Attack the Block in seeing a community come together against a threat. In that respect, there are wisps of The People Under the Stairs as well as the slight phantom of Oculus and similar films where our protagonists can’t trust their senses. So, it’s a bit of a patchwork of films that you have likely seen before blended into a whole that is probably more predictable than most people would like.
This doesn’t mean that Bingo Hell isn’t any good, though. There’s a lot here to recommend the film, starting with the tough and no-bullshit performance of Adriana Barraza and L. Scott Caldwell as her best friend Dolores. It’s not just that Adriana’s Lupita is tough and willing to go to the mat for her friends. It’s the fact that these lives feel lived in that makes this work as well as it does. They come across like people who really know each other and have been a part of each other’s lives for not just a few years but for decades. They come across as having a chemistry that feels like it has evolved over time.
That, ultimately, is what makes Bingo Hell work at all. We end up hoping that the characters we are sitting with are going to walk out the other side, having bested the terrible forces that have shown up to feed on them. It all starts with the characters—if they don’t work, we don’t buy into any of this. And, while the “gore” often comes across as more Killer Klowns from Outer Space than Hostel, we do buy into it because we like the characters on screen and believe they are who they are.
It also works in the sense that the lives of these people seem real. There’s character built up here in these people—Dolores lives with her daughter-in-law and grandson because her son has died, and we learn that a lot of these relationships are contentious. Not all of these details go everywhere, and this works, too. It comes across as believable because these details don’t always feel like they’re there to pay off; they’re like actual real details in a real person’s life.
Bingo Hell isn’t going to change your life and it’s probably not going to be anyone’s favorite movie, but it’s a fun romp, harmless, and worth the less than 90 minutes of your time it takes to watch.
Why to watch Bingo Hell: It’s about time we got some horror focused on an older crowd.
Why not to watch: You’ve seen a lot of this before.