A team of land developers ignore a local curse and make plans to build on sacred land. When they survey the land, however, they are pulled into a nightmare of demonic frights.
Titles are a funny thing. In particular, I am often very fond of the way film titles are translated into Japanese. For example, the film Honey I Shrunk the Kids was retitled Microkids! when it landed in Japan as the original title just could not translate. Napoleon Dynamite was renamed Bus Man. Bruce Campbell fared no better when his classic Army of Darkness was renamed Captain Supermarket. It is with the same curious style that Japanese American filmmaker Hiroshi Katagiri names his latest film, Gehenna: Where Death Lives. While this is a horror pic, and there is death, I’m not so sure that death lives in the central location as much as a curse. Let me explain.
“…something far more powerful than the wraith of greedy investors…”
When American resort developer Paulina (Eva Swan) journeys to Saipan to scope out possible resort locations, she and her team including Tyler (Justin Gordon), Dave (Matthew Edward Hegstrom), Alan (Simon Phillips) and scene-stealing local on the ground Pepe (Sean Sprawling) uncover an underground labyrinth of inescapable, cursed horrors. At first, we are given the hint that things are not all that right with the location when the locals on the island are protesting any development due to legends of a curse. Like that ever stopped Americans with money.
The team arrives on the scene to scope things out and make preliminary plans. That is until they stumble upon some locals practicing a ceremony at the mouth of an underground tunnel. A creepy old man gives the greedy team their final warning and is shewed away. The five explorers discover an underground bunker leftover from World War 2 and if that were the end of it, well, that would just be another billion in removal costs or a fight with the historical society. Unfortunately, there is something far more powerful than the wraith of greedy investors hidden within the hillside.
“…too much fun not to see through to the end.”
As the team slowly slips into insanity and the surreal and unimaginable become reality, they realize that they need only one thing; To get the hell away. The clever little script by director Katagiri, along with Nathan Long, and Brad Palmer, plays out like a lost episode of The Twilight Zone as the characters grapple with hallucinations of their own internal demons coming for them from within the darkness. There is a slick humor laced through the proceedings that allow us not only to laugh and ease tension, but it allows us to forgive the sometimes scattered bits of the plot that feel more like the doodlings in the margins.
Not perfect, not by a longshot, Gehenna: Where Death Lives has a title that makes little to no sense, but a hell of a lot going for it. This is one of those ‘what the F is going on?’ movies that make little sense as it plays out, yet is too much fun not to see through to the end. Do the greedy white devils get out of the tunnel? What cursed this sacred land causing such a terrifying legacy? You have but to watch the film to find out, then form your own opinion on the matter.
Gehenna: Where Death Lives (2018) Directed by Hiroshi Katagiri. Written By Hiroshi Katagiri, Nathan Long, Brad Palmer. Starring Doug Jones, Lance Henriksen, Patrick Gorman, Simon Phillips, Sean Sprawling, Eva Swan, Justin Gordon, and Matthew Edward Hegstrom
Gehenna: Where Death Lives gets three stars ***
Norm’s Rating System: ****(GREAT) ***(Good) **(Ok) *(Awful)