Past is prologue, premise, and all-purpose plot device in Hulu and Marvel’s gloomy supernatural series Helstrom (★★☆☆☆). Created by Paul Zbyszewski, the show obsessively rehashes the backstory of its titular dysfunctional family. Although dysfunctional is putting it mildly, given that siblings Daimon (Tom Austen) and Ana Helstrom (Sydney Lemmon) are mostly estranged, their mother Victoria (an excellent Elizabeth Marvel) is possessed by a demon, and their dead father was a serial killer and possibly the most powerful force of evil the world has ever known.
In the Marvel comics, Daimon Hellstrom (note the telling extra ‘l’) is branded the Son of Satan, and Ana’s better known as Satana. Right there is all the backstory anyone needs for why brother and sister might shudder in their sleep at the thought of their once-dead dad returning to claim them. But, in dropping the ‘l’ from the family name, and the Marvel brand from the title, the series adds a protracted mystery about who or what exactly the Helstroms’ father might be, and what he’ll want with them when he makes his forewarned return from the demon realm.
Demon dad takes his sweet time getting there in the five episodes Hulu released for review, as Ana and Daimon catch each other up on old times and what they’ve been up to the past 15 years or so. She hunts down macabre antiquities and artifacts from her homebase San Francisco, he teaches Ethics at a college in Portland, and they both dabble in the supernatural. Ana alludes to having a sexy and queer personal life, but any details remain offscreen.
The details of their tortured family history are downloaded onscreen as dialogue with spunky novitiate Sister Gabriella (Arianna Guerra), sent by the Vatican to monitor the semi-authorized exorcisms that Daimon performs. Filmed in Vancouver, Helstrom teases an amusing Mulder-and-Scully-style teaming between Daimon and Gabriella, and Austen and Guerra definitely seem up to the jazzy, constantly shifting interplay of skeptic and believer. Thanks to Austen’s arch portrayal, Daimon is basically the only character with an actual sense of humor. But the show quickly forgoes the route of serving up a ghoulish case-per-episode while building its deeper mythology.
Rather, Helstrom just plugs away at the history of the Helstroms, each episode laced with flashbacks, dramatic family showdowns, and not enough present-day pursuits of deadly supernatural entities. Daimon and Ana’s battles against the powers of darkness, abetted by sidekicks Dr. Hastings (June Carryl) and the Caretaker (Robert Wisdom), do occasionally erupt into bursts of telekinetic action or blood and gore. More often than not, the camera cuts away from truly grisly moments of impact or violence, leaving much to the imagination, resigned to the shadows. This saga of siblings fighting to overcome their lineage, and defy the control of their evil patriarch, likewise doesn’t land with full impact.
Helstrom is available starting October 16 for streaming on Hulu. Visit www.hulu.com.
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