Film / In Hell

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A 2003 movie directed by Ringo Lam starring Jean-Claude Van Damme, and quite possibly one of his darker works.

Kyle Le Blanc (Van Damme) is an American working and living with his wife in Russia. After his wife is raped and killed at home, the criminal gets off due to lack of evidence; a vengeful Kyle shoots the man outside the courthouse in turn. As a result, he gets sentenced to a sinister and violent prison where the prisoners are forced into death-matches for the warden's amusement.

Unlike most of Van Damme's previous movies, his signature martial arts don't play a role, but the fights are portrayed in a more realistic manner. Fan response has received his performance in this film very well.


Tropes present in this film:

  • Adult Fear: What happened to Kyle and his wife is basically this: You're on the phone with a loved one, when suddenly they get attacked on their end of the line by a house-breaker, and on your end, you can only listen helplessly while unable to do anything about it.
  • Amoral Attorney: It's indicated that the attorneys representing Kyle's wife's killer got the case dismissed by bribing the judge.
  • Armor-Piercing Question: At one point Prisoner 451 puts one of these to Kyle when the latter starts getting too much like the other prisoners he fights in the warden's matches.
    Prisoner 451: Do you even know who you are?
  • Badass Bookworm: Prisoner 451, who has a reputation for killing cellmates, reads books that he collects and stores on his side of the cell he shares with Kyle.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Billy's dead, and Prisoner 451 will spend the rest of his life in prison. On the bright side, Kyle has escaped with 451's help, the prison is shut down three months later after Kyle presents evidence of the prison's corruption to the US government, and there is hope Kyle will recover from his traumatic experience.
  • Boring Invincible Hero: Subverted all the way to hell with Kyle. Sure, he's the main character, but he loses about as much as he wins (in a departure from Van Damme's past characters).
  • Butt Monkey: Poor Billy.
  • Chekhov's Gun: Every time he's placed in solitary confinement, Kyle hears a prisoner on the other side of the wall moaning loudly, and he pounds on the wall as a way to quiet the other prisoner down. Turns out the other prisoner is Miloc, the prison's most brutal fighter, who stops his violent rampage in the climax when Kyle inadvertently pounds a door, because he took the echoes from those wall-poundings as a source of comfort.
  • Depraved Homosexual: Andrei, the leader of the prison Mafia, to whom the chief guard sells Billy every night.
  • Determinator: Kyle.
  • Driven to Suicide: At one point Kyle comes close to the brink of this...but the sight of a moth in the cell, the only other sign of life in the darkness of his current surroundings, reminds him of his wife's fervor for life and influences him to keep on going.
  • For the Evulz: One gets the feeling this is why the villains in this film do what they do.
  • He Who Fights Monsters: Both Billy and Prisoner 451 warn Kyle against succumbing to this.
    Billy: Don't let them make you become something you're not.
  • Hellhole Prison: The movie's title should be the first clue...
  • Heterosexual Life-Partners: Kyle is this with both Billy and Prisoner 451.
  • The Juggernaut: Miloc, whose fights tend to be one-sided in his favor.
  • Karmic Death: Kyle kills Andrei during one of the warden's betting-fights. Prisoner 451 later kills the warden.
  • Kill It with Fire: The reason Prisoner 451 is in prison in the first place is because he did this to a teacher who was sexually abusing him. He also does this to another inmate who betrayed one of Billy's escape attempts to the guards.
  • No-Holds-Barred Beatdown: The vicious masked prisoner Miloc beats his opponents to death, and is thus far the only prisoner to be undefeated in the corrupt warden's betting-brawls.
  • Oh Crap!: Billy's reaction right before his first Prison Rape experience. And the warden's reaction before Prisoner 451 kills him.
  • Only Known by Their Nickname: Prisoner 451.
  • Prison Rape: Newly-arrived inmate Billy gets selected for this right off the bat, and it's implied that he's subjected to this every night afterward. Kyle also gets threatened with this by Andrei, though fortunately he doesn't get to experience it.
  • Rape as Backstory: The fate Kyle's wife suffered, in addition to being murdered afterwards. Also, Prisoner 451 was sexually abused by a male high school teacher, who he later set on fire in retaliation.
  • Scary Black Man: Prisoner 451, and not without reason—every cell-mate he's had before Kyle has gotten their tongues ripped out.
  • Screw the Rules, I Have Money!: It's indicated early in the film that if Kyle were to simply pay off the prison guards, he wouldn't even have to spend a day in prison; given that his wife's killer got off his murder charge due to the judge being bribed, Kyle could just as easily have done it. However, Kyle himself averts it by refusing to do so.
  • Shout-Out: Gee, a man obsessed with books and Numbered 451?
  • Smug Snake: The warden, the chief guard, and Andre the prison Mafia leader.
  • Too Dumb to Live: Billy is locked in a cell with the vicious prisoner Valya. Billy spits in Valya's face; Valya's response is to give Billy a No-Holds-Barred Beatdown that results in Billy dying from his injuries.
  • Vigilante Execution: The reason Kyle got thrown in prison.
  • Wardens Are Evil: This prison's warden definitely is.

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