The film centers people of color over the age of 40 in roles that are rarely seen for them. In doing so, Director Gigi Guerrero is breaking some resistant tropes while offering the horror genre a fresh concept. For horror films, basing an entire narrative on a social issue is seen as a gamble—by white film execs. When the social issues are ones that are near and dear to our communities, Black and Brown people turn out for the film. And people will for Guerrero’s Bingo Hell.
Like her fellow Blumhouse Productions cohort Ryan Zaragoza, director of Madres, Guerrero uses social themes from her own experience to create a complex fear that is more than the “monster” itself. This fear drives deeper into the hearts of the audience while forcing them to care about gentrification, ageism, and the disfranchisement of impoverished people.
Loss is a Real Fear Here
Loss of community and identity are central to the story as rural town residents Lupita (Adriana Barraza), Delores (L. Scott Caldwell), and their friends are concerned about the loss of their community to gentrification. A rich hipster theme is taking over the entire town, removing the spaces they once loved and could actually afford. We see as the group’s favorite haunt, like the cafe where they got coffee, is taken over by a “FOMO Coffee.” That name should have been a warning.
Other members of the community are selling their businesses a home developer is offering more money for their properties than many of them will make in a lifetime. Lupita is indignant, fighting any new change as much as she can. Delores and the others are considering what’s left to make them stay? There are deaths in the community too that Lupita finds suspicious but everyone else dismisses as old age. This is especially apparent in their regular Bingo game. Each night is overshadowed by the loss of game regulars.
Don’t Let the Gray Hair Fool You
Mr. Big (Richard Blake) moves into town with a new Bingo Hall that quickly draws the appeal away from Lupita’s game. She becomes curious, especially after the light literally goes out on her game one night and the person to fix it is MIA. The next night, Lupita goes to Mr. Big’s Bingo Hall. There, he’s hosting a vigorous game that has captivated the other players.
The place is new, shiny with bright lights and flashy images on the Bingo screen. The players stare riveted. His games are intoxicating. Lupita spots Clarence (Grover Coulson), another town resident from their friend group.
Clarence is obviously under Mr. Big’s spell. Mr. Big is terrifying but not if you are under his spell. The game quickly becomes an obsession and winning may be the last thing anyone wants to do. For some reason, his charms are lost on Lupita, who is suspicious of the power these people (Mr. Big and the gentrifiers) have. But, Lupita’s squad will go down fighting for their friends and their town.
This is the first film I’ve screened in a while where the final girls are much older and women of color.
Impoverished Dreams of the POC
The dream of getting rich quickly draws people to the game. And Mr. Big actually lets folks win. However, the tragedy of these wins is that they require the winner to give up reality during a particularly dangerous moment.
This distraction of a “dream come true” is one of the devices that Mr. Big uses to prepare them for a feeding—his. Although it never says, Mr. big has all the traits of a djinn. He feeds on all that excitement and energy from winning the game. Their eyes are so clouded by the dream that no one notices the fatal toll until it’s too late.
This way of manipulating impoverished POC has been used by lotteries, scams, and even politicians for ages. They dangle the possibility of “the dream come true” in front of people who are desperate for a break. Then they snatch the dream off the table or replace it with terms and conditions that ruin the family’s finances. The capitalist idea of working a whole life for a pension is such a tactic. We toil for a lifetime only to reach retirement and find that our “nest egg” is unavailable or shrouded in political terms and conditions. The dream dissolves quickly then, as we realize that we were too clouded by the dream to see reality.
Abuelitas and Big Mamas are the Heroes
I love that the film Bingo Hell centers on people of color who are the most important people to many of us. But these people are often let out of films or relegated to roles of maid and cook. Lupita and Delores as we know them. My late Big Mama was a fearless badass who I admired. I can see her curb-stomping a demon out of her community as Delores and Lupita did.
For many of us, our grandmas still worked or were very active in the community. They are the guards of change, the first to warn of a threat. This is why it’s so easy to conceive of the story in Bingo Hell. Those who find the film farfetched need to meet my grandma JoAnne Johnson Campbell.
A Fresh Twist on An Old Trope… Because Diversity
Bingo Hell shows once again that diverse stories from diverse storytellers are needed to keep the horror genre fresh.
We have experiences that have yet to be experienced in mainstream cinema. A space that has been dominated by stories centering on whiteness. Well, are tired of such stories. The fact that I relate so much to the story is a bonus and another point for diversity. We also see those stories like Bingo Hell forcing audiences outside of the culture to learn about our issues, while also bringing the campy, gory fun of a good horror film. Why? Because you need to understand a few things about gentrification and POC grandmas in order to fully appreciate such films.
Bingo Hell is fun and streaming on Amazon Prime Video now.
Rating 5 of 5
Check out the trailer.
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