‘The most shocking conclusion awaits you…’
Gehenna: Where Death Lives is a 2016 Japanese-American supernatural horror feature film directed by former special effects creator Hiroshi Katagiri from a screenplay co-written with Nathan Long and Brad Palmer; its stars Lance Henriksen, Patrick Gorman, Simon Phillips, and Katherine Wallace.
“Gehenna [gi-hen-uh] a most accursed place; destination of the wicked”
Five people travel to the remote, seemingly pristine Pacific island of Saipan to scout locations for their company’s new luxury resort. They find curious natives, strange dolls, and learn of historic curses but they finally find an ideal spot.
On this spot is a cave – and when they enter, what appears to be a Japanese WWII bunker turns out to be much more, and they learn that curiosity can kill, that everyone has private secrets and inner demons and that there are some places on Earth where death itself can live…
Review [may contain spoilers]:
Despite the opening shots of sumptuous Saipan, horror regulars may well be over-familiar with the remainder of the set-up here: it’s that oft-visited scenario of scene-after-scene showing the key protagonists wandering around and bickering in a claustrophobic setting.
That said, at least the lighting and cinematography is effective and gives distinctive depth to the compact bunker sets. And, thankfully, there’s none of the pitch-black peering-in-the-dark nothingness that often pervades low-budget horror productions, particularly of the found-footage variety.
Performances are generally good, with strong roles for female lead Eva Swan and Simon Phillips as a pig-headed chancer. Amusingly, Lance Henriksen literally phones in his brief cameo but that’s fine. A banner name is a standard lure in productions of this ilk and Henriksen is always a welcome genre veteran.
The overall premise, that the characters’ are tormented by their past sins, or perhaps even perceived past sins, is intriguing, yet never fully realised. Flashbacks to a Spanish native heart-ripping ceremony and demented WWII Japanese soldiers flesh out the storyline but the contemporary characters’ protracted efforts to understand these past events add nothing to Gehenna’s overall structure.
Which brings us to the overlong running time. There is simply not enough going on in Gehenna in terms of plot, exposition or, more importantly, action, to justify the meandering 105-minute running time.
Worse still, aside from a couple of brief shock moments, the scare factor is low. The make-up for the creepy creatures/apparitions is splendid, however, the ghouls are glimpsed only briefly, uttering such predictable threats as “you, must die!” before disappearing into the gloom. Meanwhile, Yuan Liu’s pleasingly sonorous score isn’t used enough.
First-time feature director and special effects maestro Hiroshi Katagiri clearly has his heart in the right place and is reportedly already eyeing up a sequel with a first-person angle. Unfortunately, Gehenna lacks bite and any genuine audience identification with the onscreen proceedings will surely wane well before the movie has delivered its obligatory twists.
Adrian J Smith, MOVIES & MANIA
“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.” Ian Sedensky, Culture Crypt
“It certainly has its scary movies, and its moments of claustrophobia and suspense, but it also has a lot of slow moments. Progression and development is good. Too much of that is bad. I understand that not ever scene and every shot is going to be FLASH! BANG!, but when this one’s slow… It’s SLOW.” Horror Society
“Gehenna: Where Death Lives is pretty by-the-numbers, touting some decent performances and beautifully realized outdoor/location footage, but it has no push, no urgency and moves the characters back and forth in the bunker with no motivation and a lack of excitement and sympathy.” Michael Klug, Horrorfreak News
“A clumsy, overlong attempt at a claustrophobic mind-f*ck in the vein of The Descent and As Above, So Below, the movie is undone by pedestrian pacing and universally obnoxious characters […] impatience, rather than tension, sets in early. Among the few virtues are some fine make-up effects and a typically striking Doug Jones cameo…” Steven West, Horrorscreams Videovault
“Instead of a taut fright-fest, we watch the dwindling group bicker and spew sarcasm in one static shot after another, with the occasional ghoul popping out too infrequently to distract us from the melodramatic filler.” Josh Goller, Spectrum Culture
Cast and characters:
- Justin Gordon … Tyler – Lost Souls; Age of the Living Dead TV series; Before I Wake, Oculus; Absentia
- Eva Swan … Paulina – Alien Inhabitant
- Simon Phillips … Alan – Age of the Living Dead TV series; Shame the Devil; Strippers vs. Werewolves; Idol of Evil
- Sean Sprawling … Pepe – Age of the Living Dead TV series
- Doug Jones … The Old Man – Nosferatu; The Shape of Water; The Bye Bye Man; The Terror of Hallow’s Eve; Ouija: Origin of Evil; Hell’s Kitty
- Lance Henriksen … Morgan
- Patrick Gorman … Don Rodrigo
- Katherine Taylor… Claire [as Katherine Wallace]
- Daniel Joo … Villager
- Charles Chudabala … Villager
- Maxie Santillan Jr. … Old Native
- David Lansky … creature Jack
- Keisuke Akizawa … Japanese Soldier 3
- Matthew Edward Hegstrom … Dave
- Yasunari Akita … Japanese soldier 2
Gehenna: Where Death Lives was screened at the Bram Stoker International Film Festival in Whitby, North Yorkshire on 30 October 2016, as well as New York City International Film Festival, Philadelphia Asian American Film Festival, and Australia’s A Night of Horror International Film Festival.
In the USA, Gehenna received limited movie house showings before a VOD release on May 4, 2018, via Uncork’d Entertainment
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