GEHENNA: WHERE DEATH LIVES (2016)
Directed by Hiroshi Katagiri
Written by Hiroshi Katagiri, Nathan Long, Brad Palmer
Starring Lance Henriksen, Patrick Gorman, Simon Phillips, Katherine Wallace, Sean Sprawling, George Kamea, Eva Swan, Maxie Santillan Jr., Justin Gordon, Matthew Edward Hegstrom, David Lansky, Mauricio Gomez Amoretti, & Doug Jones as the Creepy Old Man!
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Some truly haunting practical effects and a intricately twisty and turny tale lies ahead in GEHENNA: WHERE DEATH LIVES.
A team of developers and guides head into Saipan, an coastal territory in Japan to plan the location of their new resort, but when they uncover a hidden bunker on the expedition, they find themselves crossing into a doorway to hell. Horrors that date all the way back to World War II and beyond are in store for these unsuspecting surveyors.
First and foremost, the highlight of GEHENNA is the quality of the visual effects that run rampant in this film. First time director Horishi Katagiri’s main gig is as an effects man and he shows his genius level skills throughout the entire film. From old age makeup to monster makeup to horrifying gashes and wounds, this is one gruesomely great looking monster movie. All of the effects are both visually beautiful and horrifying. They are effects that will make you want to look away, yet admire the technical skill and creativity gone into them. The full body makeup of Doug Jones alone is magnificent, but there are many more horrors to enjoy here.
I also really enjoyed the story GEHENNA’s effects flesh out. While I don’t want to ruin it here, the way the story twists and turns and folds in upon itself is quite an achievement. I loved the way this one wraps up all of its loose ends by the end of it. The way the story is interwoven with the characters shows an attention to narrative that many horror films simply don’t go for.
If there’s a chink in the armor of GEHENNA: WHERE DEATH LIVES it’s the acting from most of its cast. While Katagiri does a fantastic job with realizing the story he wants to tell and highlighting the many effects at play, I think the area in need of improvement is trying to get more from his actors. I think all of the actors involved were capable of delivering convincing performances, but some of the relationships that happen in this short span of time feel forced and unbelievable and I think a few more takes would have gotten some better performances to sell these beats in the story.
That said, this is a strong first effort from Katagiri and with this film under his belt, I’m excited to see what this effects wizard has in store for us in the future. GEHENNA is visually potent in terror and packs quite a few surprises into its story to make for a unique and grotesquely gorgeous little monster movie.