Reviewed by Gareth Jones
Starring Layton Matthews, Chad Grimes, Santiago Craig, Zelieann Rivera, Cole Braxton, Zach Curner, Crow Garrett
Directed by Pearry Reginald Teo
Following up on his 2007 actioner The Gene Generation, writer/director Pearry Reginald Teo takes us on a nightmarish ride into Clive Barker-inspired hell with his newest piece, Necromentia. Echoing the occult themes of his previous shorts Liberata Me and Children of the Arcana, Necromentia utilises the anthology format to present the criss-crossing paths of three unfortunates.
As the film opens we are introduced to grieving barber Hagen (Santiago Craig) bathing the rotting corpse of his dead girlfriend, all the while speaking of his intention to fulfil her promise of always coming back to him. When the bathing is complete, he also performs some kind of procedure to her lady parts involving a rather large metal implement. This is off-screen, but one can immediately assume that rigor mortis is quite the bitch.
Shortly afterwards, Hagen is approached after hours by Travis (Chad Grimes) and his associate. Travis promises Hagen the path to retrieve his girlfriend, if he will also help him find his lost brother. Said path involves the carving of an Ouija board into the flesh of Hagen’s back, and also proves to be a one-way ticket into a hellish world with no beginning, no end, and one seriously vicious demonic sentry. Mixed in with this is bartender Morbius, who appears in both a demonic and human form at different points. To give much more of a description of the plot would likely spoil some of the enjoyment of Necromentia, as a large part of anthology films such as this is discovering just how these characters all come together, the ties that bind them, and their ultimate fates. A few pleasing surprises are to be had during the runtime, but the fractured chronology of the narrative works both with and against it in almost equal measures. Hagen’s fate, for example, is displayed much too early and abruptly, lessening a lot of the impact (even if the gore is wonderfully excessive).
The cast, for the most part, are more than acceptable across the board with Chad Grimes coming out on top in his performance of the tortured Travis – a recovering addict desperately attempting to care for his disabled brother, ultimately brought to his own hell by the influence of a vengeful demon. Travis’ story also contains one of the film’s craziest sequences – a suicide-promoting subtitled sing-along performed by the child-voiced “Mr. Skinny”. This character, a fat guy wearing a pig mask, torso wrapped in barbed wire and two bloody tubes hanging from the nose, brings proceedings into extremely twisted “what the fuck?” territory as he sings and gyrates, attempting to coerce Travis’ handicapped sibling into killing himself. The whole scene, including the set design, is like some horribly warped episode of a children’s TV show – you can’t help but be mesmerised by it, almost like Teletubbies as produced in Hades.
The worst main performance in the film comes courtesy of Zelieann Rivera as Hagen’s girlfriend, Elizabeth, which is extremely unfortunate considering the pivotal nature of her role in the story. Most of her lines are horribly delivered and sound completely unnatural. When a hell-dwelling demonic entity speaks like this, you can forgive it. A seemingly normal woman, not so. In fact, her main dialogue scene was the only moment that I was kicked out of my absorption and reminded that I was watching a distinctly low-budget piece of work. Kudos for making the surrounding runtime so involving have to go to Teo himself for the fantastic visuals that Necromentia overflows with.
The initial scenes are deftly shot and staged, with some surprisingly crisp lensing – especially the one in which Travis carves the board into Hagen’s back, which is lit and presented in an incredibly professional manner – far beyond what one has come to expect from straight-to-dvd budget fare these days. The creature design is also incredibly good, with hell’s main dealer of violence being a hulking, eyeless, chained brute which could easily pass for a low-budget Cenobite by way of Gary J. Tunnicliffe.
Hell itself is represented by pretty much the same stretch of pipe-encased corridor that the characters find themselves showing up in. Some may be upset that that’s really all we get, rather than the type of vistas found in Hellbound: Hellraiser II, however it works very well in my opinion considering the intimate nature of the storyline and exceedingly Barker-esque theme of the otherworldly extents of human love, and the nightmarish lengths to which some may go for it.
This isn’t to say that Necromentia doesn’t have its fair share of problems – it certainly does – but the amount of love for the work and Teo’s visual talent shine through consistently. A grander scope and deeper digging into the workings of hell would have benefitted immeasurably, however the low budget was likely the restricting factor in this. The culmination of each episode is quite disappointing as generally each character shows up in the hell-corridor, talks for a short while with a gas-mask wearing entity, and is then swiftly despatched by the previously mentioned hulking predator. The ending of Travis’ story is particularly dissatisfying, considering what comes before it is far and away the best section of the anthology – it simply doesn’t feel sufficiently wrapped up.
As is stands, though, Necromentia is one hell of an effort and the faults are for the most part overshadowed by the sheer promise and behind-the-scenes talent which floods every frame. It definitely could have been more satisfying in the end, but it’s a near pitch-perfect companion piece to the works of our beloved Mr. Barker. If another Hellraiser movie ends up in the works, somebody call Pearry Reginald Teo.
3 1/2 out of 5
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