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[CFF Review] HELL HATH NO FURY is a Murder Comedy of Errors


HELL HATH NO FURY (2023): Priscilla sits along in a car in the dark. (Chattanooga Film Festival 2023)
Courtesy of Chattanooga Film Festival

Hilarious and smartly written, Hell Hath No Fury proves nothing is worse than a dead-end marriage. Written by Jacob Leighton Burns and directed by Zachary Burns, the film is a tongue-in-cheek satire of thrillers that dominate the 'Til Murder Do Us Part’ trope. A rousing good time that plays with expectations and lands several well-met recurring gags, its runtime is chock-full of unadulterated murder scheming and tense uncertainty.


At the outset, Officer Stanwyck (Ashley Mandanas) sweats bullets as she is told, in no uncertain terms, that the next time something goes down, “she has got to take the shot.” This seemingly random opener is simply an aperitif to the main narrative, at the center of which is Priscilla Brewster (Leah N.H. Philpott). Priscilla is having an affair with Thomas (Clinton Kubat). Together, they plan to “k-word” (though neither can utter the word kill out loud) her uptight husband, Silas (Jacob Ryan Snovel). Their simple plan sets the stage for a December night where both Silas and Priscilla unknowingly turn to murder and where everything that can go wrong does. Set against the backdrop of a suburban house neatly adorned by Christmas decor and a beautifully prepared dinner for two, the night takes a deadly turn.


Hell Hath No Fury is slapstick at times, but its subversion of the marriage thriller is far cleverer than initially meets the eye. The soundness of the writing resonates through an application of familiar tropes like the Hitchcock Blonde. Priscilla fits the mold perfectly. Her motivation for murder is mysterious, making us doubt whether Silas deserves to die. She damsels herself beautifully to the ever-susceptible Thomas, who cannot resist tumbling into her web. Philpott masterfully portrays her manipulation, evoking sympathy and terror as she shuffles around the house, planning the perfect murder.



A chorus of sleigh bells rings ominously to signify scene shifts and plot twists. The joyful sound is significantly less cheerful when paired with the cinematography, conveying a rising sense of trepidation. The shots in which Priscilla and Silas sit at opposite ends of their dining table, the camera low and tilted, set them up as rivals in a boxing ring. Jacob Leighton Burns’ camera work and Vinnie Hogan’s score give the jaunty Christmas holiday setting a malevolent air. The effect keeps us on our toes, even when the film takes a more frivolous turn.


Cartoon-esque sound effects give the characters’ movements a satirical feel as they throw items to the side and trip over the corpses that begin to pile up. Ultimately, the contrast between the comedic and tense moments isn’t as alienating as expected. It’s surprisingly effective. While more blood might allow Hell Hath No Fury to feel grittier, it’s forgivable.


Hell Hath No Fury feels incredibly reminiscent of Clue (1985). Full of the physical comedy and recurring jokes of the British pantomime, it’s easy to imagine a stage adaptation of the film taking over the West End. The only thing the film lacks is an audience to chime in with repeating gags and lines –– a weakness of the writing which lends certain aspects a somewhat childish tone. Only the darker tone and subject matter keep the film grounded when these moments take over.


Hell Hath No Fury is occasionally silly, and its dance between genres often leans more into comedy, though purposefully and artfully. Its score of jingling sleigh bells, cinematography, and outstanding performances all perfectly complement the film’s atmosphere. The Burns take a relatively simple premise, making it unique and enjoyable. While Priscilla and Silas may loathe each other, their crumbling marriage makes for an entertaining thriller.


 



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