Real estate developers desecrating sacred land and awaking angry spirits. Although here in North America we’re used to it centering around First Nation burial grounds, it is a pretty much universal theme. Set on the Pacific island of Saipan, GEHENNA: WHERE DEATH LIVES is a rather muddled take on the theme from effects expert turned director Hiroshi Katagiri.
A group representing a hotel megacorporation run by Morgan (Lance Henriksen MOM AND DAD, D-RAILED) arrive on the island of Saipan to scout a possible location for a new luxury resort. Paulina (Eva Swan ALIEN INHABITANT), her architect Tyler (Justin Gordon OCCULUS, BEFORE I WAKE) and their photographer David (Matthew Edward Hegstrom). They link up with local land-seller Alan (Simon Phillips ONCE UPON A TIME AT CHRISTMAS, THE NIGHTS BEFORE CHRISTMAS) and his assistant Pepe (Sean Sprawling WOLF MOTHER, AGE OF THE LIVING DEAD) and head out to the site.
There they discover a couple of locals praying at the entrance to a World War 2 Japanese bunker. After scaring the natives off Paulina insists they check out the bunker. Of course, they become trapped. And of course, the bunker is cursed.
Despite the overly familiar setup GEHENNA: WHERE DEATH LIVES could have still been a tense, claustrophobic little film. Instead, the script bogs down in a mess of cliches as the bunker brings back their fears and guilt from the past. Not only have we seen this a few hundred times before, their past indiscretions aren’t overly unique either.
There’s also something to do with hallucinations and flashbacks to the Japanese occupation and the fate of the troops stationed in the bunker. Further adding to the confusion, the film takes its title from an entry in one of the soldier’s journals. That’s unlikely though as Gehenna is a biblical term, and only about 1% of Japanese are Christians.
Most of the film’s extremely low, $250,000, budget went on the creatures and they are effective and convincing. One of them, dubbed “Creepy Old Man” in the credits, is played by Doug Jones (HELLBOY, 5TH PASSENGER). Between them, he and Henriksen have maybe five minutes screen time though so don’t expect to much star power.
To be fair it does build up to a fast-paced last act and the final twist is a good one. But the film takes a bit to long getting there, (it could easily lose 10-15 minutes) and there’s not enough going on along the way. There is also a humorous post-credits scene, but I doubt many will stick around for it.
GEHENNA: WHERE DEATH LIVES is in theaters across the U.S and on digital Friday, 5/4 distributed by Uncork’d Entertainment.