Helstrom, based on the Marvel comic book characters Daimon and Ana Helstrom, is the closest Marvel has come to horror yet, which means its release is perfectly timed for the spooky season. It also looks to be the final live-action Marvel series that isn't an expansion of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
The series follows a pair of estranged adult siblings, Daimon (Tom Austen) and Ana (Sydney Lemon), who happen to be the children of a demon dad that happens to also be a serial killer, and a mother who's spent the last two decades possessed and institutionalized. As a result of their parentage, the siblings have supernatural powers and no shortage of emotional baggage.
The story kicks off when Daimon, who makes his living as an ethics professor and also happens to be a part-time exorcist, learns that the demon possessing his and Ana's mother is attempting to carry out a mysterious sinister plot. He enlists Ana, an antiquities broker, to help figure out what's going on. Naturally, they discover that the mystery goes far deeper--and potentially includes even more demons.
The first season of Helstrom consists of 10 episodes, 5 of which were provided for review. In those episodes, it's clear that this isn't like any other live-action Marvel TV series you've seen before. There's no way around the fact that Helstrom is a horror show. It has monsters, some gore, and a number of jump scares to keep you entertained. That said, the show is far from perfect--and far from your best Halloween binge option this year.
Ultimately, Helstrom looks and plays like a CW series with a bigger budget, better production design, and a darker and more disturbing setting. All too often watching these first five episodes, the long-running Supernatural came to mind. In another world, it would be easy to see them paired together for a night of spooky sibling fun on The CW. Of course, Helstrom would have to tone down some of its content--the language and gore.
Still, being reminiscent of a CW show isn't necessarily a bad thing. In fact, that might be exactly what some are looking for: a show where the relationship drama is as prevalent as the supernatural setting it unfolds in. Yes, Daimon and Ana have interesting powers and find themselves literally fighting demons. However, at the end of the day, this is a story about two siblings dealing with the trauma from growing up as members of a seriously messed up family, while attempting to hold the threads of that family together as best they can.
To that end, Helstrom is a decent family drama. Austen and Lemon's portrayal of the siblings is engaging as they attempt to heal themselves, while also learning to trust each other. Meanwhile, Elizabeth Marvel is truly heartbreaking as their mother Victoria, who rotates between being the captor and the captive as her human side becomes more and more consumed by the demon that possesses her.
The trio are surrounded by a set of supporting characters--Robert Wisdom as Caretaker, June Carryl as psychiatric hospital boss Louise Hastings, and Ariana Guerra as Vatican agent Gabriella Rossetti--who help guide them on their journey (or, in the case of Gabriella, attempt to keep an egotistical Daimon somewhat grounded).
Ultimately, the thing that sticks out most about Helstrom is what it could have been. In the comics, the character of Daimon Helstrom was introduced in an issue of Ghost Rider. Knowing that, it hardly seems a coincidence that this show was announced simultaneously with Hulu revealing it was making a live-action Ghost Rider TV show. While this series seemingly exists outside of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, it's clearly building out a supernatural world that would have worked well when combined with Ghost Rider. Unfortunately, the Ghost Rider project was canceled in September 2019. What's more, after Helstrom was announced, executive producer and former head of Marvel Television Jeph Loeb left the company, with most attention shifting to the MCU expansions on Disney+, including WandaVision, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, Loki, She-Hulk, Ms. Marvel, and more.
This leaves Helstrom in a tenuous place where it's hard to get too invested because, honestly, it seems unlikely that it will continue beyond this initial season. In fact, casting even more doubt on a potential Season 2 was the report back in April that Marvel had ended its overall deal with Helstrom showrunner Paul Zbyszewski at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.
That said, Helstrom has the makings of a decent standalone piece. There's nothing overtly bad about the show. The issue is that there's also nothing remarkable about it. Nothing about it feels special, other than the fact that it's simply something Marvel hasn't tried before. It's a middle-of-the-road entry into the horror space for Marvel--a space it may not visit again for a very long time.