Hulu’s HELSTROM (2020) TV Series Review!

The Marvel Cinematic Universe appears to be an unstoppable-ahem-‘Juggernaut’, with no signs of slowing down! Beginning with 2008’s surprise smash, the live action Iron Man, and continuing on well into the 2020s, Marvel keeps blowing away competition at the box office! However, their small screen live action adaptations seem to be hit and miss as far as popularity goes. The Netflix series, Daredevil (2015), was the beginning of what initially appeared to be another string of successes for Marvel-but it wasn’t meant to be. After an amazing 3rd season, Netflix announced the decision to cancel further seasons featuring The Man Without Fear. This was soon followed by the cancellations of the remainder of the Netflix Marvel live action series adaptations; Jessica Jones (2015) with 3 seasons, Luke Cage (2016) closing out with 2 seasons, the disappointing Iron Fist (2017) ending after 2 seasons, the rather lackluster The Defenders (2017) only scoring one season and finally, the outstanding The Punisher (2017) cancelled after an incredible 2nd season. Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D (2013), after a rather disappointing first half, finally found it’s footing for the final half of it’s 1st season and enjoyed a rather healthy run on ABC before closing out with 7 seasons!

The Hulu original series adaptation of Helstrom seems to also be another hit for Marvel, at least, in my own personal opinion. Granted, I’m not well versed in the Helstrom comic book lore so I don’t have that to compare it to and for that, I’m grateful. It means I can come at this series with no expectations of how faithful the series is to its comic book counterpart.

Episode 1: Mother’s Little Helpers

The episode opens by introducing us to Daimon Helstrom, an ethics professor, and Gabriella Rossetti, an agent of the Vatican, as they investigate the possession of a young boy in Oregon. Even before the opening credits (which are whimsically, terrifyingly beautiful, by the way), it’s quickly established that Daimon is thoroughly knowledgeable of all things demonic and possesses a power of his own but we’re not given enough to know just how MUCH power he has. Soon we’re introduced to Daimon’s estranged sister, Ana Helstrom, a dealer in rare antiquities residing in San Francisco, who has a power of her own as well as complete and utter hate and loathing for their mother, Victoria(currently institutionalized in the St. Teresa psychiatric hospital, run by Louise Hastings) who allowed their father (a serial killer guilty of multiple homicides and who may or may not be dead) to steal Ana away from her family. Strange events are taking place at St. Teresa’s-events that seem to center around Victoria; a strange symbol marks a wall in her padded room, a security officer is murdered and orderlies are recruited to ‘assist’ in the resurrection of an extremely evil and powerful entity.

Episode 2: Viaticum

Now that most of the primary characters have been introduced, episode 2 raises the stakes a bit, giving us more of an idea of the dangers that our heroes will soon be facing. Possessed by a demon, a loving husband and father stands to have his eternal soul damned for eternity unless Daimon, along with Gabriella, can stop it from happening. However, possessing this poor man’s soul isn’t the only trick up this particular demon’s sleeve as Daimon soon discovers. Meanwhile, back in San Francisco, Ana, along with Caretaker, an occultist that fights demons, discovers something that only the entity currently residing within Victoria can answer.

Episode 3: The One Who Got Away

As the tale of the Helstrom siblings continues, the violence and chaos continues to rise. Episode 3 opens with a mass slaughter and a clearer idea of the extremely powerful demon that’s now walking the Earth, a brutal force intent on locating a specific female; the one who got away. Daimon and Ana, now working together, old animosities and grudges set aside as they strengthen their familiar bond, learn more about the atrocities their father committed while alive and come a little closer to discovering the intentions of the demon that resides within their mother. Armed with newly acquired knowledge, Daimon, Ana and Gabriella attempt to reach out to and offer assistance to ‘the one who got away’; an things go horribly wrong. Ana’s assistant and surrogate brother, Yen, develops an unhealthy and dark obsession with the skull of a Keeper (sort of a jailer for demons) while at the same time, Louise Hastings reveals a secret of her own to Caretaker.

Episode 4: Containment

This is where the fun REALLY begins as this episodes opens with Gabriella in church, having a crisis of faith; the demonic kind. Caretaker attempts to help Gabriella understand the war they’re fighting and what awaits those who are casualties of this particular war. Ana’s assistant Yen has gone missing, along with a crucial weapon that might give them the advantage in their quest to defeat a possibly undefeatable enemy-an enemy that they’re discovering may be closer to them than what they had first believed. It’s in this episode that you really get to see the bond between Daimon and Ana strengthen as she explains to him what she’s been using her powers for. As the tale continues, we discover that there may be dire consequences in store for the world if the Helstrom family is completely reunited.

Episode 5: Committed

As the search for Yen continues, Daimon and Ana’s mother, Victoria, begins to slip further into a coma, her health rapidly deteriorating. However, it’s here where the story gives us a clearer look at what is actually happening within Victoria’s mind as well as introducing us to the entity that coexists inside her. A battle of wills begins to take place as we’re given more information about what actually took place on the night that Victoria was committed to St. Teresa’s. The Keeper finally makes an appearance, giving us a glimpse of the terror it’s able to inflict on the terrifying. Whilst a battle wages within Victoria’s mind, another kind of battle is fought within the bowels of the psychiatric institute, a battle where brother and sister will have to decide who’s worth saving; family or a friend. Meanwhile, Gabriella, while attempting to help a college student previously possessed, struggles with her conscience regarding the hell that the innocent casualties of this demonic war are subjected to.

I’m just going to be blunt; I absolutely LOVED these first five episodes! I’m hooked and now have one-ahem-hell of a demon monkey on my back! Marvel’s done it again because I want more Helstrom!

The acting of all exceeded my expectations with the stand-out (for me) being Sydney Lemmon (daughter of Chris Lemmon, grand-daughter of Jack Lemmon) as Ana Helstrom! As I mentioned much earlier, I’m not familiar with the Helstrom comic at all which is refreshing. I grew up on a steady diet of comic books, Archie, Casper, Batman, Daredevil, etc. so as comic-to- film adaptations become more prolific, it’s difficult to go into a live action version of a beloved comic book without preconceived expectations. Lemmon’s Ana is smart, witty, attractive and exudes the right amount of sarcasm to realistically come across as someone who’s not only cynical but also someone who happens to find that cynicism within herself to be rather hilarious. Ana is a character who, at a very early age, witnessed more death and horror than most adults see-ever. Her often humorous, usually scathing witticisms are just thinly disguised defense mechanisms.

The effects work, while not plentiful, were well done and I’m glad that the creators of the series chose to not go over the top with some of the more crazier scenes. Sometimes, especially in films about demonic possession, less definitely IS more. Subtlety is what can make a scene much more frightening than an expensive ‘wow!’ special effects moment! Granted, that may not be the case as the series continues however I’m willing to bet that as we come to the close of this season (I’m totally praying that there’ll be more Helstrom if this part of the tale ends satisfactorily!) there may be one or two bigger, more expensive effects scenes but the remainder of the effects work will continue with the subtlety.

Overall, Helstrom was one hell of a ride and I can’t wait to see how it all plays out!

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