by Jason Coffman
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Due to its prominence on the cover of the DVD, it’s virtually impossible to avoid the easy marketing quote that no doubt will help sell Necromentia to certain horror fans: “Saw meets Hellraiser but better than both…” (so says Luke Thompson of L.A. Weekly). These are two things that are fundamentally similar enough that the concept of mixing them doesn’t quite add up: both are well-known horror franchises mostly preoccupied with elaborate torture, although one is set in a more “realistic” universe and the other is focused on the supernatural. Still, at the end of the day when you end up with chains sticking out of you, and you’re being dragged along a dirty floor, the question of whether the thing on the other end of the chain is a person or a demon is mostly academic.
Hagen (Santiago Craig) has been trying to keep the body of his dead wife Elizabeth (Zelieann Rivera) from succumbing to decay in the hopes that she will return to him. One night while closing up the barber shop in which he works, Hagen is confronted by Travis (Chad Grimes) and his mute sidekick Connor (Crow Garrett). Travis knows of Hagen’s necrophilia hobby and offers Hagen a deal: Travis can send Hagen into Hell to retrieve Travis’s brother, and at the same time save Elizabeth. Once these motivations have been established, the pieces are in place for the rest of the film, played out in a sort of anthology-style series of stories: Hagen’s story, Travis’s story, and the story of Morbius (Layton Matthews), the mysterious supernatural figure who seems to be running the show.
There is no question that Necromentia wears its influences on its sleeves. At worst, it simply feels like the product of picking up bits and pieces of other films off the shelf and sticking them together to see what fits. Naturally, there’s a lot that feels directly inspired by Clive Barker: an elaborate spell that must be carved into the flesh of a victim, a supernatural figure obsessed with torture and punishment covered in elaborate pain fetish gear, etc. And that Saw influence is everywhere. Everything is very gray and dirty, there’s a lot of barbed wire, and one supernatural monster is represented as an obese man with the head of a pig. Further, the film’s structure is roughly similar to Memento, wherein each segment appears to move further into the past, so the beginning of the film’s intertwined storylines is actually at the start of the third act.
Necromentia seems primed to appeal to horror audiences who are on the lookout for gore and don’t mind much else what happens during the movie. There’s plenty of blood and torture, and of course the implied necrophilia and the graphic sequences where Hagen does maintenance on Elizabeth’s body. The pig-faced man also performs a song complete with sing-along lyrics at the bottom of the screen that is probably supposed to be disturbing but instead comes off as “my dad is gonna be totally pissed about this shirt I got at Hot Topic”-level juvenile shock tactics. The film not only does not feature a single likeable character— which is fine, and can be interesting— but fatally does not feature a single character whose motives and actions really make any sense. In short, Necromentia is sadly just another torture geek show.
Necromentia will be released by Image Entertainment on DVD on September 14th. Bonus features include a commentary with director Pearry Teo and cast members, an interview with Teo and actor Chad Grimes, and the film’s trailer.
Jason Coffman is a film writer living in Chicago. He writes reviews for Film Monthly and “The Crown International Files” for Criticplanet.org.
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