GEHENNA: WHERE DEATH LIVES ** Japan / USA 2016 Dir: Hiroshi Katagiri 106 mins
Opening with a quote from Jesus and an atmospheric face-slicing 17th century prologue, this feature directing debut for veteran Stan Winston studio sculptor Hiroshi Katagiri swiftly degenerates into cliché. After Lance Henriksen literally phones in his “special appearance”, an unlikeable group of co-workers check out the prospects of a Saipan resort for their company, and end up exploring a nearby bunker that was the site for horrifying torment during WWII and, before then, a sacred burial ground.
The oppressive place unleashes personal demons amongst the group, including everyone’s favourite hackneyed past trauma, the I Feel Very Guilty About My Dead Kid backstory. A clumsy, overlong attempt at a claustrophobic mind-fuck in the vein of THE DESCENT and AS ABOVE, SO BELOW, the movie is undone by pedestrian pacing and universally obnoxious characters. The second most annoying character films everything for no convincing reason, while the most loathsome of the bunch not only speaks exclusively in Capitalist Bastard clichés (“I prefer to speak dollars and cents – the language we all understand”) but is also British – and thus guaranteed the most unpleasant end. The dialogue clunks badly (“That’s a real dead body!”) and impatience, rather than tension, sets in early. Among the few virtues are some fine make-up effects and a typically striking Doug Jones cameo as a cadaverous old man lurking in the bunker so he can pop out of the shadows for the odd jump scare.
Review by Steven West