★★★★ out of ★★★★★
Directed by Gigi Saul Guerrero.
Last year brought us engaging septuagenarians battling it out the save their decrepit community center in VFW. Earlier this year saw the posthumous release of George Romero’s frightening PSA, Amusement Park. concerning the oft forgotten repugnance of elder abuse. Now, Amazon Studios is treating us to the latest in elder horror, Bingo Hell. The golden (girls) age is upon us with a new subgenera of horror, AARP horror. You heard it here first!
Bingo Hell, director Gigi Saul Guerrero (AKA La Muneca Del Terror), follows an aging community filled with aging stalwarts. The film largely examines the impeccably cast elder stateswoman Lupita (Adriana Barraza, Drag Me to Hell) as she navigates the worst of all horrors, being aged out of a community amidst hipster gentrification.
In much the same way the 2020’s Bronx Vampires dealt with hyper-inflated housing prices and neighborhoods loss of their cultural identities, Bingo Hell takes this simple conceit and doubles down with the geriatric implications of gentrification. Lupita has been the unofficial mayor of the fictional town of Oak Springs for many moons. Her, also exceptionally cast, group of pals coalesce around the local bingo hall (…not to be confused with bingo hell), share communal tales from the neighborhood, and do their best to collectively pull each other through the hard times.
That is until local bingo hall proprietor Mario (David Jensen: Camera Obscura and Creature) goes missing. Mario’s derelict bingo hall is rapidly transformed in to a showy Vegas-esque party replete with disco lights, massive displays, and actual prizes worth winning. The newly anointed bingo hall owner, Mr. Big (Richard Brake: Mandy, 31, and Hannibal Rising), is ready to turn up the heat on Oak Springs with BIG winnings! Problem is the winnings are not a one way street and Mr. Big expects something in return for the lavish cash prices — their SOULS!
The gift and the curse of Bingo Hell is the obvious Twightlight Zone-like quality of the storytelling. It’s painfully clear from almost the opening credits that this demonic quid-pro-quo relationship that Mr. Big has with Oak Springs will play out as a moralistic horror tale. But, in this case, that’s not a bad thing.
By crafting such a simple tale director Gigi Saul Guerrero is able to spend more time on the characters, their lives, and the internal conflicts they have concerning their once-lively, but now gentrified, community. Lupita and her best friend Dolores (L. Scott Caldwell, Lost) are given perfect dialogue and wonderful character motivations that display a thoughtful friendship.
The authenticity brought to Lupita and all the neighborhood cronies is nuanced and special. These are not one dimensional senior citizens that gripe about gout, the high cost of prescription medication, and technology passing them by. All the characters in Bingo Hell bring a real world understanding of the pain of aging and the constant economic repression that’s presented by the worst elements of capitalism.
To say that Bingo Hell and the appearance of Mr. Big (AKA the Devil) is a singular metaphor for gentrification, is probably missing the point. The complex tapestry that director Gigi Saul Guerrero weaves creates an empathetic investment in the both the plight of Lupita and the neighborhood.
Bingo Hell, while not terrifying, contains some gruesome scenes of body horror, gore, and the aeformentioned demonic hold on the community. What’s clear is that director Gigi Saul Guerrero knows her way around the camera, and more importantly, she knows her way around horror. Here’s to hoping we see many more films from La Muneca Del Terror!
Bingo Hell is likely Rated R and is streaming exclusively through Amazon.