Bingo Hell (2021) Delivers Tortured Horror Comedy
Title: Bingo Hell
First Non-Festival Release: October 1, 2021 (Digital/Streaming Platforms)
Director: Gigi Saul Guerrero
Writer: Shane McKenzie, Gigi Saul Guerrero, Perry Blackshear
Runtime: 85 Minutes
Starring: Adriana Barraza, L. Scott Caldwell, Joshua Caleb Johnson
Where to Watch: Check out where to find it here
Lupita (Adriana Barraza) is the glue that is holding the community of Oak Springs together. She hosts bingo night at the community center, which serves as the one place her fellow residents can relax and enjoy each other’s company despite the influx of young hipsters moving in and gentrifying the area. This keeps up until one day a charismatic man strolls into town and buys up the bingo hall giving it all the necessary upgrades and more while giving out extravagant prizes for the lucky residents hitting the jackpot. Little does the community know that there is a cost associated with winning his games.
Some great ideas and a lively leading performance can’t save Bingo Hell from being bland.
Let me start off by saying I really wanted to enjoy Bingo Hell. There’s a certain amount of heart behind the production that I admire, and I fervently wish that it translated to screen. I’d love to start with the positives. Adriana Barraza’s prickly Lupita is a breath of fresh air in horror films where the protagonist most often lacks the bite needed to face up against monstrous evils. She is funny, fierce, and portrays a realistic level of endurance in the face of evil. The cast of primarily older characters is well developed not only in their friendships but their individual worries. They all feel like real people which makes them easy to root for. Unfortunately, this is the end of the road for me.
As a critique on capitalism and gentrification Bingo Hell doesn’t really land. There’s a lack of rules for what exactly is happening. Is the point that people are gambling their life away and are so desperate for money that they have sold their soul meaning they have to die? It seems arbitrary on when this possession aspect works and when it doesn’t, as the rules bend to fit whatever is needed to progress the story.
What is Mr. Big’s goal in relation to his invasion in their neighborhood? Is he reaping souls who would have otherwise been damned or is he trying to turn as many as possible? Or is equating developers with the devil the extent of the metaphor? What is the ultimate consequence beyond selling your individual soul? Is it that the neighborhood can now be sustained by hipster coffee shops and microbreweries? Aside from some shallow throwaway lines and a general concept, Bingo Hell doesn’t do much to tie its allegorical parts together in a compelling or interesting way.
Story aside, the rest of the film struggles as well. The jokes are just not as funny as they read on paper. The score potentiates this by getting way too zany. It helps shape an even more disjointed tone within the film making it even less enjoyable to watch. The garishness of the renovated bingo hall makes for some nice juxtaposition about the emptiness of money, but it starts to get grating after a while. Somehow the film drags despite its short runtime. It feels like a story that would play out better in short form. It’s all over the place and would benefit from a larger budget and more time to hash away the smaller details.
In the end, Bingo Hell is a very bleh movie despite my earnest desire to enjoy it. The cast is charming, and the concept has so much potential to be fun and poignant. Barraza shines as the leader of her community engendering a sense of devotion and love for her community and Guerrero does what she can with the meager budget to make magic. With more polish on the script and some more interesting set pieces, this garish horror comedy could be dressed up as a solid film. Unfortunately, it’s bogged down by trite storylines and characters that lose energy by the finale. Skip it or not, you won’t count yourself that lucky when watching Bingo Hell.
Overall Score? 4.5/10