‘Gehenna: Where Death Lives’ boasts a wealth of talent both behind and in front of the camera to bring its claustrophobic and psychological horror out from the depths of the bunker into our living rooms.
The synopsis: Gehenna fixes on five people who enter a hidden bunker from WW2, and realize it’s way more than a bunker. Some fates are MUCH worse than death.
After the films somewhat unexpected opener, set in ancient time, which sees the imprisoning of a terrified gent into a stone tomb the film doesn’t waste anytime setting its rather limited story up. First time director Hiroshi Katagiri is quick to introduce his ensemble cast including Doug Jones, The Shape of Water and Lance ‘Bishop’ Henriksen – who, albeit is in the film for about 2 minutes as he talks on the telephone and a rather amusing further 30 seconds in a bonus ‘after credits’ scene. Katagiri may be making his directorial debut with ‘Gehenna’ but his name can be found on the credits of numerous blockbuster his including Jurassic Park 3 and the more recent Pacific Rim. Needless to say, however, there are worlds apart from blank check blockbusters and crowdfunded horror films!
Indeed the films press pushes this film in all the right places, but before I start critiquing the films polished visuals and cool creature effects let continue to give some context as to how the plot and the horror elements work, or don’t as is the case at times.
The films opener is set on the island of Tipan and we are introduced to a group of stakeholders who have their respective interests in a piece of land which is both revered and feared by the local peoples. Cue some impressive vistas, some lush visuals and an opener which seems to match my optimism inspired by the film’s press materials. Soon enough, after some character set-up, we the group head into the bunker. In stark contrast to the paradise above the bunker, still inhabited by scattered corpses and whose lighting seemed to come fitted with the standard lighting reliability we’ve come to expect from all horror houses, basements and creepy ass ruins – you know, the flickering type!
The film gains some momentum here, the quick shift from safe to fucked comes quickly and with some effective jolts. There are some cool looking creature effects as a wasted corpse launches itself at the group from the darkness spewing prophecies of doom from its blood drenched mouth. Sadly, it doesn’t last.
In comparison to the authentic exterior shots the bunker looks the complete opposite. Its freshly applied ‘aged effect’ walls don’t look as if they would with stand a collision with one of the cast, never mind American Artillery. There is an initial air of disorientation and tension building as the group frantically search for an exit, but this quickly turns into a repetitive cycle of running around in the dark, pretty much down the same couple of corridors and rooms. As my attention began to waver my mind began to amuse itself as the film (at these points) reminded me of the TV game show ‘The crystal Maze’ where vacant looking contestants would be pretty much be doing the same thing between their challenges!
Anyhow, back to this. The film does redeem itself somewhat in its final third as we get to see yet more of the films great creature effects, one in particular reminding me of the somewhat hideous Asian styled ghosts of the ‘Project Zero’ video games as the horror goes up a notch and the cast become somewhat more cruelly harassed. The films drifts into psychological horror at this stage to which breathes a bit of new-life into a plot which had began to transcend into the mediocre and cliché. The film’s final scenes are a hint at the potential which could have been delivered by the strong cast, with equally strong horror-effects to support the scares. They are tense, cruel and even deliver a decent twist ending.
Sadly, the script and pacing of the films set pieces were not up to the same standard throughout the films flabby mid-section.
Overall, perhaps the marketing worked a little too well on this occasion, and my expectations a little too high. The plot had exciting potential, and at times delivered, the cast took the acting well above the usual crowd-funded horror standard, and the creatures looked pretty awesome when they needed to. Sadly, what the film lacked was consistency in both the scares and the pacing. It’s got a something for everyone with regards to its horror content, and as the slightly-above-average score would suggest, I enjoyed the film as an evenings worth of entertainment