In some respects, Hell Baby, the co-directing debut from duo Robert Ben Garant and Thomas Lennon (Reno 911, The State) had the desired effect of a scary film. I left the theater dazed, upset and not a little sick to my stomach. It felt as though a curtain had been drawn back and I had finally stared into the void, only to find that the void was in the middle of a three-minute barf scene. This was disturbing not because there was vomiting in a movie about demonic possession—Linda Blair had that covered years ago—but because this round-robin of upchuck was supposed to be the funny part.
I’m more disappointed than angry. Mssrs. Garant and Lennon have a great track record for offbeat humor, and in Hell Baby they assembled a great ensemble cast of former sketch groups, including former State associates Michael Ian Black and David Wain, Human Giant’s Rob Huebel and Paul Scheer, Second City’s David Pasquesi, Key & Peele’s Keegan Michael Key and his Childrens Hospital co-star Rob Corddry. The plot is passable: A yuppie couple moves into a “bad” neighborhood in Louisiana, and, before long, strange things start happening. Old women appear naked in the shower, apparently unaware that the Overlook Hotel had a bathtub. Neighbor F’resnel (Mr. Key) pops up around every corner—don’t worry, he’s let himself in—while very-pregnant wife (Leslie Bibb) starts having weird cravings and communicating with ghost dogs. Before you can say “Rosemary’s twins!” she’s chopping up the bodies, at which point Vatican City sends its men in black (Mssrs. Lennon and Garant) to investigate the phenomenon with the local police (Mssrs. Huebel and Scheer).
And yet somehow that description doesn’t do justice to the true stupidity of Hell Baby, which has the singular distinction of being the first movie to rip off the Scary Movie series. The only difference is that Scary Movie has, on occasion, provided some entertainment in its parodies of currently popular horror flicks like The Ring, Scream or Paranormal Activity. Hell Baby refuses any such homage; worse, it refuses to acknowledge that there is an entire established franchise that already has the market cornered in the slapstick, scatological and quasi-racist send-up of the horror genre department.
Despite the glaring Scary Movie resemblance, Hell Baby could have been a fine, funny movie. But it relies too heavily on gross-out sight gags and grating characters. This is unfortunate, because, if you listen closely, the absurdist script is not half-bad, and the actors do a tremendous job trying to deliver their lines between the “meta” cheap scares (“I’m so sick of being startled!” Mr. Corddry says after the umpteenth fake-out), the recurrence of the “old woman” rubber suit in various compromising positions and two (two!) drawn-out scenes where characters loudly masticate po’ boy sandwiches. It’s a non sequitur that could have been funny if the movie wasn’t entirely comprised of such random moments.
In fact, it’s the occasional good cerebral joke—like Mr. Corddry explaining random chance to his wife: “Imagine buying a lotto ticket … which we’d never do, because we’re snobs”—and Shakespearean aside that make Hell Baby even more terrible. The majority of the film isn’t just bad—it’s lazy.
Written by: Robert Ben Garant and Thomas Lennon
Directed by: Robert Ben Garant and Thomas Lennon
Starring: Rob Corddry, Leslie Bibb and Alex Berg
Runtime: 98 min.
Rating: 1/2 a star