HELL BABY – The Sundance Review
No one will ever mistake Hell Baby for anything close to a comedy classic. But it made me laugh. A lot. I’ll fully admit that the thinner air in the elevations of Park City might have affected my judgment. It’s heavily disjointed and badly placed, mostly a series of sketches strung together with the loosest semblance of a plot. But there’s so much good stuff seeded throughout that the movie’s an almost perfect rental.
Rob Corddry and Leslie Bibb play a couple with a baby on the way who move into a dilapidated New Orleans house, which has an unfortunate haunting problem. Soon, Bibb’s character finds herself possessed by a demon looking to be born, and supernatural shenanigans abound, with all the expected references to classic possession movies. In time, a pair of Vatican-sent priests, played by directors Thomas Lennon and Robert Ben Garant, arrive to handle the problem.
But again, this story is just an excuse for extended gags about naked elderly women, getting high, and eating really good po-boys. The movie almost doesn’t even need the exorcism angle. Unlike pretty much every other parody to come out in recent years, it isn’t built around jokes that are basically scenes from the films it’s making fun of, but with added fart noises. It works by letting its performers cut loose, and they all get moments to shine.
And no one shines more here than Keegan Michael Key. As part of the eponymous lead duo of Key & Peele, the best sketch series on television, Key’s already demonstrated that he deserves the unending adulation of every single person who likes to laugh. Here he plays the main couple’s “next door neighbor” who is actually squatting in their house. Somehow, he manages to make an overused joke about coming out of nowhere consistently hilarious. His every facial expression is pure gold, and his manic energy is infectious, infusing every scene he’s in. This man will soon be a star.
Everyone has their moments, though. Corddry’s the harried straight man, while Bibb has fun playing up the “possessed woman” archetype. Lennon and Ben Garant run second to Key’s character as the brightest lights in the film as the supremely odd exorcists, who never stop smoking and have purposefully cartoonish foreign accents. Riki Lindhome turns up as a pretty standard hippy-dippy character, but has fun with it. Paul Scheer and Rob Heubel play wonderfully incompetent cops, with Scheer getting the movie’s best line (“Ain’t no one ever killed a demon baby by being careful”). It’s a solid ensemble, and they’re all clearly having fun.
Hell Baby was one of the most pleasant surprises I had at Sundance. I’d honestly sooner watch it again than more than a few of the movies that garnered a lot of acclaim (and awards) at the fest. It’s slight, and it won’t live on for long, but it’s a blast in a theater, and unquestionably worth a look.