Saipan is a U.S. Commonwealth in the Western Pacific and the biggest of the Northern Mariana Islands. It is a place rich with history, including being the sight of a very significant battle during World War II. It is also the setting for the latest horror film called Gehenna: Where Death Lives from director Hiroshi Katagiri.
Gehenna: Where Death Lives is a frightening tale about people’s sins coming back to haunt them. A group is scouting a possible location for a new resort in beautiful Saipan. While investigating, they discover a World War II bunker which they decided to explore. They become trapped inside and soon find themselves fighting for their lives as their deepest, darkest secrets manifest with deadly consequences.
Hiroshi Katagiri’s first feature film is an intense, claustrophobic thriller that is one part Flatliners and one part Poltergeist. I love the setting chosen for this film. At the beginning we are introduced to the beautiful wide open landscape of Saipan. This was a great juxtaposition to the bunker that the group is trapped in. The camera work and direction of the scenes inside the bunker helped maintain the feeling of claustrophobia. The audience is never given a chance to breathe and you feel like you are right there with the characters. Everyone puts in a great performance, especially Eva Swan. Swan plays Paulina with a great balance of strength and vulnerability that helps the audience feel sympathetic towards her character. The script Katagiri co-wrote with Nathan Long manages to work some of Saipan’s rich history into the story, giving weight to what would otherwise be a run-of-the-mill haunted bunker story.
The makeup and special effects also stand out. I loved the creepy look of the creatures and other dark spirits. The practical effects are gruesomely good. I particularly liked the makeup effects on Doug Jones who plays the creepy old man. He really has a talent of bringing scary characters to life and it shows here. I also enjoyed the soundtrack of the film and though it added to the tension of the scarier scenes. The lighting of the set helped maintain the Bunker’s creepy atmosphere as well.
The idea of our sins coming back to haunt us and/or kill us has been done before. This does make the film predictable at times. Gehenna suffers some pacing issues in the second act. I think if a few scenes were trimmed or removed altogether, it would keep things moving at a more intense pace. It does make up for this slow down in the final act where things get really insane.
Gehenna: Where Death Lives is a dark thriller set against an interesting backdrop of a place that many people know very little about. This unknown adds an extra twist of flavor. It is not often a movie can educate and scare you at the same time but Katagiri manages to do that here. That is why I think Gehenna: Where Death Lives is worth a watch. Gehenna : Where Death Lives is in theaters and On Demand May 4.