With Marvel Television now incorporated into Kevin Fiege’s empire, with the intention of tying properties into the wider cinematic universe, there’s only one live-action series left from Jeph Loeb’s reign: Helstrom. The first true Marvel horror outing was originally launched to pave the way for a wider “Adventure into Fear” banner for the production company. With Gabriel Luna on board in a teased Agents of SHIELD Ghost Rider spinoff, the aim was to set up a connected universe featuring teams like Midnight Sons or Spirit of Vengeance. Subsequently watching Helstrom now feels like more of a missed opportunity, particularly with the potential of it being a one and done standlone series.
Created by Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. writer and producer Paul Zbyszewski, Helstrom follows estranged siblings Daimon (Tom Austen) and Ana Helstrom (Sydney Lemmon). The two are children of a demonic serial killer, with their possessed mother locked up in a mental institution for years, so naturally they have unresolved childhood issues. Daimon, an ethics professor and part-time exorcist, discovers that the otherworldly spirit which has a hold on his mother has set a deadly event in motion. Enlisting the help of Ana, an antiquities broker, they attempt to track down a dangerous demon which has been freed from its imprisonment.
With an intriguing horror/supernatural premise, it’s unfortunate that the most compelling elements of the show teased so early on don’t really flourish. Opening with a tense exorcism and featuring plenty of jump scares and supernatural investigations throughout, definitely gives a lot of promise to Helstrom. This is unlike any of the Marvel TV shows we’ve seen before, hinting at a darker story thematically similar to Constantine or Outkast. Subsequently, the slow burn reveal of their childhood trauma and complicated family history is also an intriguing thread, but sadly the pacing is just too painstakingly slow to truly keep you hooked.
Out of the five episodes available for review, the final two only really started piquing my interest, with a particularly impressive fifth episode. Delving into the metaphysical prison in Elizabeth’s mind and exploring the complicated relationship with the demon trapping her was so intriguing, bolstered by Elizabeth Marvel’s fantastic performance. The drama between the siblings and their mother otherwise unfolds similarly to a CW show. Now that’s not necessarily a bad thing, but be prepared for Daimon and Ana’s powers and demon slaying to take a back seat in order to explore their emotional trauma, as they attempt to keep their broken family together.
Thankfully the family drama is well played out between Tom Austen and Sydney Lemmon, with the latter gifted the better material for the sarcastic Dexter-esque anti-hero Ana. Exquisitely dressed and hugely charismatic, with some hilariously cutting lines, she’s a far more layered and interesting character than Daimon. For an exorcist and part time ethics professor gifted with a number of extraordinary powers, he’s surprisingly rather dull and egotistical. However the real talent is undoubtedly Elizabeth Marvel as matriarch Victoria, effortlessly switching between possessed and captor throughout the tense and often unpredictable scenes in her cell. The supporting cast also do a decent job, with Robert Wisdom’s Caretaker and June Carryl’s psychiatric hospital boss Louise Hastings tasked to guide the siblings on the right path.
With a distinctly supernatural feel and intriguing narrative, Helstrom has the potential to be a compelling horror outing for Marvel. Unfortunately the overall slow pacing and focus on the generic emotional family drama result in a missed opportunity. With the previous tease of Ghost Rider and a wider mystical banner, it’s a shame to know that we won’t see this happen, definitely impacting on how invested I become in the show.
The 10-episode season of Helstrom premieres Oct. 16 on Hulu.