Studio: Uncork’d Entertainment
Director: Hiroshi Katagiri
Writer: Bradley A. Palmer, Nathan Long, Hiroshi Katagiri
Producer: Koodae Kim
Stars: Justin Gordon, Eva Swan, Simon Phillips, Matthew Edward Hegstrom, Sean Sprawling, Lance Henriksen, Doug Jones
Resort developers surveying land in Saipan become trapped in a cursed bunker when they disturb an ancient burial site.
Were someone to ask my opinion of “Gehenna: Where Death Lives” in civilian circumstances, I’d mumble “meh” and move on. One of the challenges of being a critic however, is I’m required to fill out a full-length review even when additional words are unwarranted. It’s not that “Gehenna: Where Death Lives” is necessarily poor by low-budget DTV standards. It’s simply so middle-of-the-road that little else needs to be said.
Look at the opening credits or the film’s poster art and you’ll notice prominent placement for Lance Henriksen and Doug Jones. These two genre icons have had their names dropped in so much B-movie muck that their vaunted cameos are clues “Gehenna’s” producers don’t know they have next to no value anymore.
Henriksen in particular has been slumming it with “get in, get out” gigs for ages, though this might be his most laughably shoehorned appearance yet. You could knock me over with the decimal point in his paycheck if Henriksen’s needless inclusion here clocks in at longer than 60 seconds. Part of me cynically wonders if Henriksen’s single scene was intentionally written to put him on one end of a call so he could phone in a performance literally instead of just figuratively. The other part of me wonders if the production still had to pay Henriksen’s full day rate, even though he could not possibly have been on set more than 15 minutes, which includes trips to the honey wagon as well as the craft services table.
I love Lance, but seriously, this has to stop being his reputation. Incidentally, if you can outlast the end credits, Henriksen returns to send what integrity remains for himself and the movie right out the window with one of the campiest codas conceivable.
Henriksen’s employee Paulina (I just had to look up this key character’s name – that’s how much of an impression the movie makes) has landed in Saipan to scout a location for a resort development. The story doesn’t need her to, but she checks in with Lance via the aforementioned phone call to let him know she arrived. Lance gives her an “atta girl,” hangs up, and rushes off to whatever other monster movie one-and-done he can squeeze in before lunch, probably grabbing another handful of Red Vines “to go” on his way out.
Paulina meanwhile, grabs her architect Tyler, photographer Dave, and sets out for the site with Alan, the man brokering the deal, and Alan’s local guide Pepe. We are going to need a native to spit up exposition about local lore and superstitions after all.
The group gathers outside an unusual bunker while surveying the area. If they knew they were in a horror movie, they’d know to get out of there asap after encountering protests over the disturbance of a sacred ancient burial site. Even if one were to ignore the natives, the creepy old shaman wearing a mask of human flesh and praying with a voodoo doll should be additionally ample evidence that evil lies ahead.
Of course, Paulina and the others enter the old bunker anyway. I’ve already made this longer than necessary so long story short, Paulina and pals find several shriveled corpses and another mysterious old man before a sudden earthquake knocks out the lights. When they recover, the quintet discovers the dead bodies disappeared as they have inexplicably been transported to World War II, and are trapped inside the underground shelter.
“Gehenna” uses this premise for a claustrophobic paranoia thriller that has a hard time conveying claustrophobia, paranoia, or thrills because its budget only buys the look of a basic cable TV show. Bright natural light washes act one exteriors with flat cinematography forbidding any face to have a shadow. Interiors go in an opposite direction of darkness, yet are still unable to hide seams in the set. The five characters, who range in stereotype from arrogant alpha male to culturally insensitive comic relief, do circuitous laps around a kitchen-sized stage dressed, redressed, and then dressed again to look like different corners of a cave seemingly pulled from “Land of the Lost’s” dumpster.
Ribbing aside, the effort is as estimable as can be expected from a crew using a nickel for every dollar required. But if you want to immerse yourself in the movie’s vaguely “Twilight Zone”-ish tale, your imagination has to forgive a lot of flaws, because hammy dialogue and hammier acting aren’t up to making that magic happen.
“Gehenna: Where Death Lives” is the first feature from director Hiroshi Katagiri, a longtime effects artist whose copious credits include films from John Carpenter, Guillermo del Toro, and Steven Spielberg. Unsurprisingly, brief glimpses of this movie’s monsters are “Gehenna’s” bread and butter. Beyond that, Katagiri sits at the low end of the learning curve in terms of pacing the right rhythm, culling convincing performances, and tying atmosphere together.
A brief Saipan history lesson, licks of unique legends, and a fiendish final revelation flavor fiction enough to prevent blandness from bringing the film all the way down. If the screenplay didn’t force five folks confined in a corridor to nonsensically wander away from one another repeatedly, perhaps improved plot progression would lengthen the story’s legs. What we see is instead what we get with “Gehenna: Where Death Lives,” and what we get is a mediocre motion picture. Like I said, “meh.”
NOTE: There is a post-credits scene.
Review Score: 50