Bingo Hell is at least a horror film unlike last year’s Amazon/Blumhouse offerings, but is too full of questionable craftsmanship and hollow messaging to recommend.
The title Bingo Hell is a play on the phrase bingo hall, which anyone with a half a brain cell could figure out. Luckily, director Gigi Saul Guerrero spells it out for the knuckle-draggers out there in the opening credits; one only wishes the rest of the film possessed this level of clarity. Indeed, it’s hard to know what to make of Bingo Hell, a gooey horror film in which the Devil himself appears in the small California barrio of Oak Springs to give the people the riches they deserve . . . but at a price. Despite this straightforward premise, the movie also wants to be a loving tribute to those individuals who paved the way for future generations through their tireless works of activism. And in further addition, it is also an angry polemic against gentrification . . . that is, until it’s not, what with its elderly residents ultimately defeating “the man” but then leaving town anyway because “We are Oak Springs,” which raises a lot of questions that the film is unwilling to answer, as its end credits roll only moments later.
Operating in a key of live-action cartoon, Bingo Hell is a collection of shots bathed in neon primary colors that seem to have been cut together by someone suffering from a severe attention disorder; no shot lasts over two seconds, whether it be a woman ripping off her own skin or someone simply walking down the street. The performances are pitched somewhere between community theater and Faye Dunaway in Mommie Dearest, including that of Academy Award nominee(!) Adriana Barraza, playing lead senior-citizen ass-kicker Lupita, who senses something is amiss when, overnight, her beloved local bingo parlor has been bought up by the mysterious Mr. Big (Richard Brake) and turned into a fluorescent den of iniquity. Each player receives a dollar-sign stamp on the back of their hand, which instantly turns into a bloody, oozing sore, because money poisons you, obviously. Before long, Lupita is the Chicken Little of the town, deaf ears turned to her ominous warnings as the low-income citizens see nothing but dollar signs — literally! Every once in awhile, someone will graphically die as a result of their cursed winnings, because this film is also venturing into evil Djinn territory, but no one but Lupita gives it a second thought. All the while, the camera whooshes to and fro with an abandon that could inspire motion sickness, while overexaggerated sound effects fill the soundtrack.
Lupita, for her part, drove gangsters out of this town, and she even has a bullet wound to prove it. The question, then, is whether she defeat Beelzebub himself. Or, you know, maybe not. After all, this is a movie where a man dies after ingesting gallons of motor oil, but not before sticking his hand in a car engine, yet it wants its audience members to seriously consider the corrupting power of sudden wealth. To call it confused would be a remarkable understatement, and that goes double for the whiplash-inducing tonal shifts that litter its short runtime. Meanwhile, none of the characters are the least bit likeable or compelling, making their victory at film’s end feel as hollow as the messaging. That this film is the kick-off to this year’s slate of Halloween-inspired Amazon/Blumhouse collabs does not inspire hope that this particular collection will be any better than last year’s sub-mid catalog. But credit where credit is due — whereas last year’s selections were simply Lifetime Network-level thrillers posing as horror, at least this one delivers some innards. Let us take the victories where we can find them, no matter how small, as there are no winners in Bingo Hell.
You can currently stream Gigi Saul Guerrero’s Bingo Hell on Amazon Prime Video.