New Horror Releases: Gehenna: Where Death Lives (2018) - Reviewed

Let’s see…firstly, let us establish what the name means so that we can start somewhere that gives us the first hint of a possible subject matter. Apparently, in Rabbinic literature, Christian and Islamic scripture, Gehenna is ‘the destination of the wicked’. That already gives us a hint that it would be a film about guilty people suffering their own hell in some way.

This 2016 feat by first-time director Hiroshi Katagiri is well-paced from the beginning. From a bit of tribal gore as intro, it ushers us into Saipan, where a property developing team are scouting their latest purchase for a resort. Along with the obligatory locals warning of the cursed land the property is on, the mood soon adapts to the curse of the natives when a World War II bunker is discovered by the team and this is where the actual adventure begins.

Throughout the film, it is evident that Katagiri’s previous role as make-up effects artist for Stan Winston Studios (and in high budget films such as Jurassic Park, War of the Worlds and A.I.), is paying off well for his own venture. The film’s effects are thankfully void of bad CG and brimming with really impressive make-up effects on the team’s occasional confrontation with the dead.

In the initial scenes, the humor is well timed as we are introduced to the characters. Landscape shots of the beautiful beaches and turquoise Philippine Sea lends to the film’s appeal, setting the utopian scenery against the nightmarish fate that awaits. Exposition is delivered in subtle and effective ways in the first part so that, if you pay attention, you can figure out what is going on by thirty odd minutes in, but it does not take from the enticement to what lies beyond.

The set is believable, the scares minimal and mostly we are just being led in circles by the squabbling characters that makes us feel as if the film draws on unnecessarily long. Although the acting is decent and the characters are generally likeable, the script is reduced to juvenile bickering through most of the film as the team navigates the bunker. What is good about the journey are the sinister clues left by previous occupants and camera angles that instill anticipation instead of the usual cheap jump scares.

In general, Gehenna: Where Death Lives feels like Dead Mine or As Above So Below, with only the lore changing. Even the brief scene featuring Lance Henriksen does not elevate it to a memorable horror film, as the fright element is just not there. However, if you have a break or a day that needs a movie or two, Gehenna will not be a total waste of time. 

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-Tasha Danzig