Director/Story/Creature Design – Pearry Teo, Screenplay/Producer – Stephanie Joyce, Photography – Darin Meyer, Music – Timothy Andrew Edwards, Makeup Effects – Jason Collins & Elvis Jones, Creature Effects – Anonymous FX, Production Design – Clifton Dance. Production Company – Compound (B)/Eslinger-Joyce Productions
Chad Grimes (Travis), Layton Matthews (Morbius), Santiago Craig (Hagen), Zelieann Rivera-Craig (Elizabeth), Zach Cumer (Thomas), Ryan Egatoff (Demon), Nathan Ginn (Mr Skinny)
Hagen lovingly tends the corpse of his dead girlfriend Elizabeth. He is then forcibly cornered by two men. One of his attackers, Travis, tells him that he can bring Elizabeth back from the dead. Agreeing, Hagen is tattooed with a series of symbols that will open up a doorway to Hell. Several months earlier, Travis had been a professional who was paid to torture people for sexual pleasure. He was also tending his handicapped brother Thomas who was experiencing bizarre hallucinations invoking him to suicide. Travis began taking the drug ketamine but whenever he did so he experienced visions of a demonic figure Morbius who entreated his help in regaining human form. The backgrounds of all three people, Travis, Hagen and Morbius, proved to be intertwined.
Pearry Teo is a Singaporean national who emigrated to the US sometime in his twenties. Starting in the early 2000s, Teo made a handful of short films that garnered some festival awards. He made his feature-length debut with The Gene Generation (2007), which had a reasonable budget and featured some name actors, and this was followed by the Syfy Channel fantasy film Witchville (2009). Subsequent to Necromentia, Pearry Teo has made the horror film Dead Inside (2011), Dracula: The Dark Prince (2013), The Curse of Sleeping Beauty (2016) and Ghosthunters (2016), as well as produced Tekken: A Man Called X/Tekken 2: Kazuya’s Revenge (2014), Strange Blood (2015), Bethany (2017), Stasis (2017) and Day of the Dead: Bloodline (2018).
I must confess I watched Necromentia the entire way through and finished without any clear idea what the film was about. Within the first five minutes, I was switching off and feeling that everything was being played by cliche, where I had seen every camera shot and especially lighting set-up in some other horror film. The opening on a subterranean lair, shot in grimy hyper-saturated colours and flickering half light, a soundtrack of grinding industrial music, featuring characters with unearthly metal contraptions of quasi-medical purpose wrapped around their body, and edited with quick jumpcuts and subliminal flashes had the yawn-inducing feel of a film trying to be a Saw (2004) sequel and/or copycat Torture Porn film. The shadowy wheelchair-ridden figure that we meet in Hell even has a gravelly voice and makes moral pronouncements just like Jigsaw.
It becomes apparent that what we are watching is some type of variation on Hellraiser (1987) by way of Saw – I read one review that amusingly called it ‘The Saw-Bound Heart’. Beyond that, not terribly much is clear. The script follows the interwound lives of the three central characters – the necrophile Hagen (Santiago Craig); Travis (Chad Grimes), the man who inducts Hagen into an occult deal and has a background as a professional torturer for sexual pleasure, while caring for a mentally handicapped brother; and the barman Morbius (Layton Matthews) who is killed and tries to make a deal to be released from Hell. The film has a tripartite structure, introducing each of the three characters as well as the character in the successive story where it goes on to tell their backstory, which often shows them in a very different way than they initially appeared. All three narratives are wound together at the end around the character of the dead girl Elizabeth (Zelieann Rivera-Craig).
There are times when Pearry Teo’s vision is just whacked. Like the scenes with the handicapped brother (Zach Cumer) who sits around a strangely oversized tv and has visions of a large man Mr Skinny (Nathan Ginn) wearing barbed wire and a pig’s mask singing children’s songs invoking him to commit suicide. Later there is a song and dance while Nathan Ginn plays the organ and Zach Cumer dances around waving his caregiver’s intestines. In one of the more amusing scenes, we see Chad Grimes with a woman imprisoned in a torture chamber doing various things to her before Teo reverses it to show that he is just torturing her as a paying customer. (Although I find it hard to imagine that anybody could run a commercial torture operation in a dungeon where the concept of hygiene seems completely alien). Teo seems to want to take us into the world of fetish – the babysitter even sits down reading a magazine called Abastophilia (I had to Google it – it’s apparently a sexual fixation with people that are mobility impaired). Somehow though, one suspects that the world of fetish portrayed in the film has more to do with things imagined in the writer/director’s head than it bears any resemblance to real world practices.
Between all of this – the necrophile Santiago Craig being asked to open a gateway to Hell, the brother’s hallucinations of Mr Skinny, Chad Grimes working as a torturer and injecting drugs that take him into a hallucinated world where he meets the white-skinned figure asking him to do things – you remain completely confused about what is going on. The weaving together of the backstory towards the end makes more sense of the film but I have my doubts if many people would have the patience to stay to that point. The problem is that Necromentia has a number of good ideas floating about – I particularly liked the very Clive Barker-esque scenes where Santiago Craig is given an occult tattoo that opens up a doorway to Hell, only to later find this is an elaborate trap. Alas, Necromentia comes with so many other tangential ideas and things going on that the interesting parts get lost. The Barker-esque venture into Hell disappointingly comes down to being a low-budget vision of the afterworld that appears to consist of no more than a single section of industrial basement.