Review: Gehenna: Where Death Lives

The horror genre has always been a point of interest for me as a moviegoer. Done right, horror movies can grip you in a way that makes you heart pound and your adrenaline spike. You find yourself holding the hand of the nearest person, searching for comfort you never thought you needed because you’ve been truly immersed in a reality that taps into something psychologically disturbing. Gehenna: Where Death Lives< uses these elements to create a chilling story of the supernatural, with a claustrophobic atmosphere and practical effects, it promises to scare.

Gehenna is about a crew hired to scout locations for the site of a new resort on the island of Saipan. They plan to scout a location that superstitious locals won’t go near, and later find that this is the location of an old World War 2 bunker that may stand in the way of the new resort. As they investigate the bunker, a supernatural mystery unfolds that will take them to the edge of sanity.
Gehenna: Where Death Lives is the directorial debut of writer and director Hiroshi Katagiri, known for his special effects work on a myriad of movies including Jurassic Park 3 and Pirates of the Caribbean. I got the chance to interview Hiroshi to gain an insight into how he created his Kickstarter funded movie.

Hiroshi’s special effects background shines through in this movie with a showcase of amazing practical effects brought to life by a talented team. In a time where CGI seems to be the go-to effect in movies, it was refreshing to see practical effects play a major part in Gehenna. According to Hiroshi, practical effects make it easier for actors to respond believably on screen. Rather than mentally projecting a monster onto a green screen, the cast can see, feel and touch everything in the environment around them.
This believability goes a long way in convincing the public that what they are seeing is imaginable. The horror genre has desensitised audience over decades, encouraging production crews to find new ways to scare. Gehenna takes cues from Japanese horror, using striking psychological themes rather than jump scares and gore like some of its more western counterparts. As the movie progresses the minds of the characters start to unravel and secrets are revealed, adding emotional depth and a sense of purpose to the people we see before us.

As with any movie, it is not without flaws. The story is well-written with twists and turns aplenty, though constant events throughout seem to foreshadow particular key third act moments. There were also confusing moments during the build-up in which flashbacks and backstory were added to the plot that didn’t seem to go anywhere or affect the outcome in any discernible way. These are small complaints in an otherwise gripping movie.

Gehenna sets out to create a unique horror movie based on practical effects, believable characters, and well-paced thrills. Even those who aren’t immediately drawn in by the subject matter will appreciate the work done by the special effects team and the direction Hiroshi takes the film. The movies Kickstarter campaign stats that “A truly great horror film should first and foremost strive to be a great film”. In this case, they’ve done a great job. I recommend Gehenna: Where Death Lives to anybody looking for a decent independent horror movie that will thrill and entrance.

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