It’s exciting to see Shyamalan on such confident footing once more, all these years later.
Like bad houseguests, the creators of "Hell Baby" overstay their welcome. This is partly intentional: much of the comedy in "Hell Baby," a scattershot but fitfully gut-busting horror-comedy, knowingly uses repetition and dead air. But it soon becomes apparent that the filmmakers, many of whom worked together on "The State" and "Reno 911!", aren't committed to their film's main conceit.
"Hell-Baby" riffs on the newly-revived demonic possession genre. But co-writer/director team Robert Ben Garant and Thomas Lennon aren't really interested in parodying formula-calcified clichés, so their jokes miss as often as they hit. One in every five scenes is uproarious, but the rest of "Hell Baby" is flabby footage of naturally talented people riffing on so-so material. These guys make the "Scary Movie" creators look disciplined.
At first, "Hell Baby" seems to have something to say about class and/or race as it's used in horror films. An opening montage of half-rebuilt, half-devastated homes situates the movie in post-Katrina New Orleans. Expectant couple Jack and Vanessa (Rob Corddry and Leslie Bibb) joke about the fact that they live in an area so poor that "white people don't know it exists." That observation is confirmed by an unamused black couple sitting on the porch adjacent to theirs.
Jack and Vanessa have just moved into a dilapidated "lower-lower" Garden District home, and it is, of course, haunted. F'resnel (Keegan Michael Key), a hilariously nosy neighbor, tells the soon-to-be-parents that they shouldn't worry: no murders have happened in the last few months ("It's not like anybody got murdered up in here yesterday."). But F'resnel is only half-right, and Jack and Vanessa's unborn child soon attracts demonic attention.