Stars:Liz Burnette, Cary Elwes and John Henbest
This is a real shame..
I only learned about HELLGATE two days prior to its VOD release and I know they say you should never judge a book by it's cover;but that's exactly what I did with this one. Not just its cover, mind you, but its title. I'm a sucker for all things hellbound, and the artwork led me to believe that this would be the sort of film that comes along all to rarely, a hell-set horror with some real bite. Once again...I'm let down by my none-to-unrealistic expectations.
I've never understood why it seems so difficult to portray a valid hellscape onscreen. Its been portrayed with amazing vision and detail in many ways by many writers, (perhaps the most visionary being that of Edward Lee in his INFERNAL series(. There have been a few cinematic exceptions, of course...HELLRAISER and its sequel spring immediatly to mind, but for every film that proffers us a glimpse of Satan's crib, there's ten that promise so much but never bring the goods. Look at the otherwise excellent THE NINTH GATE. I waited two hours to catch a peek at the goods and all I got was bright light. How about DRAG ME TO HELL, which teased us with demonic imagery but never let us see the actual 'dragging' per-se, (and no...three seconds of bad CG doesn't count). Even CONSTANTINE, which portrays a very christian hellscape, only spends a few minutes there. Its not fair, man. I want me some hell to chew on.
HELLGATE doesnt even bother trying to depict any kind of hell at all, although on viewing, it becomes clear that there's no real reason to. The title is very misleading, you see, (it was originally titled SHADOWS, which while pretty poor, is far more accurate). Nope, HELLGATE is, for two thirds of its plat-time, a run-of-the-mill ghost story told, sadly, with little-to-no panache, creative zeal or verve. Its not a terrible film by any means...it's just so devoid of any real creative energy.
The plot revolves around some fella (Cary Elwes) who barely survives a terrible car crash in which his kid and his sexy Taiwanese wife are killed to bits. As he undergoes his recovery, (with help from an equally hot Taiwanese nurse...I really need to visit this place), he begins to experience visions...from beyond the grave!!! Stop me if you've heard this before. The premise here is mildly spiced up by adding some ritualistic silliness (by way of a severely slumming William Hurt), that may or may not have a basis in the regions traditional spiritualism, and the final thirty minutes does pick up visually and creatively, but its not enough to elevate this story from the mire. Its just too familiar, guys. Sorry.
Instead of character dynamics and intellect, we get fast-cut jump scares, some loud bangs, and a great deal of that shaky-head thing that JACOBS LADDER done so well, and that every other film has botched ever since. It just doesn't cut it. I really do believe that all involved tried to make a frightening film, but it never grips.
There are a few positives though...the film looks beautiful, (not least in its lead actress), and features some stunning scenery from the locations in and around Bangkok, and the ritualistic nature of certain scenes as the film moves from Bustling Bangkok to its jungle bound finale is mildly diverting, but that's about it, folks.
Theres really not much more to say about HELLGATE. It's really something of a non-entity. It doesn't insult and it may contain a few scares for the younger teen audience, but its a pretty hard work to slog through if your in any way horror-centric. I hate to say it, and I wish all the goodwill in the world to its creators, but I have to admit that it commits the most cardinal sin in the realm of horror...it's boring.
(And if you wanna check out some finer entries in our genre, head over to LOVEFILM, where you can watch movies online, anytime and as often as you wish, just skip this one).
3.5 Shaker-makers out of 10