Deep in despair over his recently deceased lover, Hagen (Santiago Craig) struggles to keep the rot from setting into her stiffened corpus, but he’s not alone. Travis (Chad Grimes), also in mourning over the suicide of his disabled little brother, is spying from afar and sees the desperate man as his literal ticket to hell to find his loved one.
When first confronted with Travis’s offer, the secretive man is reluctant, but soon comes around realizing this may be his only chance to see her again. With a ritualistic Ouija board carved in his back, a terrified Hagen awakens in a dank corridor lined with piping and pitch blackness mere feet away in both directions. An ashen, thin man emerges from the darkness, but these two mortals aren’t the only ones seeking something from the surprisingly concrete-laden underworld…
It’s never a good idea to immediately compare a work with another unrelated work, or use an oft-used marketing pitch, but I’ll be damned if Necromentia isn’t Clive Barker’s Hellraiser meets James Wan’s Saw. Yet not quite in the way you’d think. No, this isn’t a blatant Transmorphers or Paranormal Entity. Instead, director Teo and writer Stephanie Joyce essentially install a hardcore metal music video rendition of Barker’s tortured imagery into a Saw-like narrative. The lives of three men interweave through a jumpy timeline over a woman as they tango with the circles of Hell (well, the industrial service tunnel of Hell) seeking varying forms of revenge. Isn’t that always the story? Questions are raised in each of the three character’s segments as they converge at the twist climax.
Does it all work? In a simplistic way, yes, but the same affliction Saw suffers is also apparent in Necromentia. The story feels very self-contained; which is both a blessing and curse. Bolstered by strong performances (esp. Chad Grimes), Teo constructs a tight little story that accomplishes a similar effect to Saw, but with vastly less money than even the meager budget of Jigsaw’s first game. This also means virtually every scene is vital and if one is attentive–the feature is a one-and-done watch.
The only flourish is the diabolical arbiter between the the worlds, Mr. Skinny, seducing Travis’s brother to suicide. In Sing-along form, Mr. Skinny takes the imaginary form of a grotesquely obese man wrapped in bloody barbed wire wearing a hog’s head. Spurred by a catchy jiggle (“wake up in the morning with shotgun mouth!”), the young boy disembowels one of his older brother’s friends while the demon proceeds to hang the wheelchair-bound kid with a length of intestine. Travis also moonlights as a for-hire extreme sadist which goes against the character’s squalid poverty. I’m no expert on 8mm chains, whips, dicks-style fumblings in back alley basements, but I’d imagine such roleplay wouldn’t come cheap for the patron. No explanation is given as to why Mr. Skinny is so hard-up for the boy’s soul or Travis’s trade, but these sequences make for a perverse diversion from the logistical ho-hum of the damnation game.
It’s uncertain Necromentia will appease Clive Barker fans as the satanic iconography and necromancy is of the unexplained armchair sort. Some synopsizes for the film make light of the “ouija board” as the gateway to hell, but there’s no reasons given here and it just looks like a random intricate symbol. Although the creature design of the blind beast that dwells in the corridor does convey the twisted brute power seen in many of Barker’s designs. As the story bogs into ironing out the whats and whys, there’s little sense of real dread or foreboding to the plights of the men, again echoing the caveats of the Saw influence.
Still, Necromentia is worth a look as a rental. Teo stretches a $300k budget commendably and the resulting amalgamation of several of his prior short films ties together in a decent evening, especially if you like the whole Saw thing. The gore quota could have been higher; we’re dealing with Hell after all. The performances and thoughtfulness in the premise’s design is what pulls the feature through–even if you may not desire to see it again. Teo has reported to have started initial work on the sequel, Necromentia: Agnus Dei, and it will be interesting to see where he carries the concept.
This review’s source is the G2 Entertainment DVD from Britain. The Region 2/PAL disc only has the trailer, but features a very nice looking 1.78:1 anamorphic, progressively-encoded transfer. Best of all, it’s only about $9 shipped to North America from Amazon.uk. Image Entertainment is set to bow a stateside disc with Teo commentary and interview on 9/14, but it’s bound to be more costly.