'Marvel's Helstrom' Season 1 Review: A satanic mystery bolstered by brilliantly charismatic performances
The series follow the Helstrom family as they deal with their shared, traumatic past rearing its ugly head in the most hellish of ways - literally
Dysfunctional families are a staple of American television - whether you're watching a sitcom, a sci-fi blockbuster series, a superhero show or are prepping for Halloween with a touch of the supernatural, the theme of family - whether found or biological - is one that shows can't help returning to, time and time again. In many cases, it's a trope that's worn thin, with writers using familial relations in place of compelling character traits. In 'Marvel's Helstrom', however, the Helstroms themselves are exactly what makes the show work, even when the rest of it can feel like its faltering.
'Marvel's Helstrom' features Daimon Helstrom (Tom Austen), a cynical exorcist doing his best to save the world from demons while also taking care of his demonically possessed mother, Victoria Helstrom (Elizabeth Marvel). His seeming lack of compassion is a source of constant frustration to the Vatican representative, a nun-in-training named Gabriella Rossetti (Ariana Guerra), who has yet to discover that the world of demons is a lot more real and present than most people know. The show is also the story of Ana Helstrom (Sydney Lemmon), a woman who uses her job as an antique dealer to lure in and snuff out the lives of men who have committed egregious sins. Daimon and Ana are estranged siblings with a complicated past, but as the show begins, that complicated past brings them back into each others' lives and it's not long before the sparks are flying and most of it is hellfire.
From the moment the eerily upbeat title sequence for the show hits, against a backdrop of disturbingly dark childish drawings, it's clear that there's a Helstrom family mystery to be uncovered. Those hoping for answers as to what the show is actually about are going to have to wait a while, however, as the show's main story unfolds at a slow and uneven pace. It takes more episodes than it should for the plot to be compelling, but it definitely gets there before the halfway mark of the 10 episode series and that mystery grows increasingly fascinating as it's uncovered. That by itself would not necessarily make it worth slogging through the early episodes, were it not for the fact that the three Helstrom leads themselves are each incredibly entertaining.
Each character is wonderfully performed, in their own unique ways. Daimon's character on the show is a familiar trope - the cold exterior of a golden-hearted boy trying his best to make the world a safer place, grown arrogant from the self-righteous weight he places on his shoulders - but Tom Austen is just charismatic enough to make it work. Ana shines as the fun-loving, hedonistic lady of elegance and independence, a thin veneer of seductive confidence over deeply ingrained trauma from her childhood. Ana's change from her comic book version is perhaps the best indication of how well the show adapts the comics' heavy-handed characters. Ana manages to retain her sultriness without resorting to the tawdry nature of her comic-book counterpart, the unsubtly named Satanna. Elizabeth Marvel's Victoria steals the show, however, both as the woman fighting for her sanity and for her children and as her raspy-voiced demonic self, as Mother.
Where the show really comes alive is seeing the Helstroms interact with each other. Though their circumstances and history could not be more different, the familial dynamic of estranged siblings is just familiar enough to be relatable, while still sharply written and performed enough to be entertaining, not exhausting. They all rub each other the wrong way, they all have deeply rooted traumas that tie in with each other and they're all trying and failing to be unbroken adults who've moved past all of it. All of this makes the show a delight to watch as the plot slowly picks up steam and by the time it does, the story of a family torn apart yet bound by their own trauma has proved compelling enough to make the main plot that much more gripping.
It might be hard to give 'Marvel's Helstrom' a chance, at first glance, but it is absolutely worth it. While viewers may initially question where the show is headed, the story of a family that's at the heart of the show eventually enhances the quality of everything else that makes the show feel mediocre - from the plotting to the dark humor, to the theatrical horror - all of it gets better episode by episode and the performances make it worth the watch all the while.
All episodes of 'Marvel's Helstrom' release on Hulu on October 16.