Writer-director JT Petty mines a few good laughs from the promising premise of “Hellbenders,” an aggressively foul-mouthed horror-comedy about exorcists forced to keep themselves in a constant state of disgrace. But even receptive genre fans will walk away with a nagging awareness of opportunities missed and potential squandered. Little more than a slapdash “Ghostbusters” rehash in which characters repeatedly fire F-bombs, pic should fleetingly tour niche fests before haunting homescreen platforms.Plot pivots on the Hellbound Saints of Brooklyn Parish, a motley multidenominational crew of clergy who provide the last line of defense against possessive demons. Each member dutifully blasphemes, fornicates and otherwise misbehaves to remain “damnation-ready,” so that if they’re ever overtaken by an unclean spirit during an exorcism, they can simply commit suicide and bring that spirit back down to hell with them. Clancy Brown plays the leader of the group with an amusingly vulgar swagger, and the plot — involving a demon who might be more powerful than God — triggers some mildly clever genre-satirizing scenes. Ultimately, however, “Hellbenders” becomes what it intends to burlesque, and that’s not so damn funny, even with 3D gimmickry.
A Circle of Confusion presentation in association with Unreal Pictures, UnLTD Pictures and Ambush Entertainment of an Offhollywood Pictures production. (International sale: the Exchange, Los Angeles.) Produced by Jon Denny, Lawrence Mattis, David Moscow, Mark Pederson, Aldey Sanchez. Executive producers, Jay Rifkin, Jonathan Gray, Matt Leutwyler, Miranda Bailey, David Alpert, David Engel, Kelly McCormick. Directed, written by JT Petty.
Camera (color, 3D), Ryan Samul; editor, Jacob Craycroft; music, Jeff Grace: production designer, Russell Barnes; costume designer, Abby O'Sullivan; sound, Lew Goldstein; special effects makeup, Brian Spears; assistant director, Neil Daly; casting, Adrienne Stern. Reviewed at Toronto Film Festival (Midnight Madness), Sept. 10, 2012. Running time: 86 MIN.
Clifton Collins Jr., Clancy Brown, Andre Royo, Robyn Rikoon, Dan Fogler.