Hellmouth (2014, 1 hr 35 mins)
The trailer for Hellmouth was exciting. It had a definite retro feel, and there was a campiness that lead me to believe that there were some laughs to be had. What I came to realize is that it is an unexpectedly beautiful surrealist horror; a swirling combination of both modern and classic influences.
Charlie Baker is retiring. After many years of working as a grave-digger and tending to a bleak, solitary environment, he is going to pack up his bags and head to Miami where he can actually talk to people, and not be tormented by the local kids. He is also ill, a husk of a man, battling an episodic brain disorder that will eventually kill him. Definitely time served, but an unexpected visit from Mr. Whinny (Boyd Banks), his supervisor, presents a 6 month, non-negotiable extension that crushes Charlie to the core. He must travel to the Forks of Heaven Cemetery, possibly the creepiest final resting place ever, where his grave tending duties take a nightmarish turn. His journey becomes one of life-changing proportions, and with the help of a mysterious woman Fay, he will battle demons, beasties, convicts and his own limitations to save himself and the woman he grows to love.
I was completely drawn in by the visuals of this film. The effects created by Nick Flook were really beautiful; black and white with pops of colour that to me, indicated glimmers of hope in such a bleak world. During the Q & A after the film, director John Geddes was asked about whether Sin City was an influence. He definitely acknowledged the influence, but wanted Hellmouth to have more of an Ed Wood feel. I saw the obvious similarities with the Frank Miller film, but you will quickly realize that aside from being technically and visually similar, this film’s story makes you forget any Sin City reference. Other references you may notice are of course Dante’s Inferno as well as a touch of Samuel Beckett’s absurdism and Lynchian surrealism that created a great visual and cerebral package.
The performances were fantastic. As you may know, I love Stephen McHattie. He can do no wrong in my eyes. His portrayal of a broken and weary Charlie was spot on; a perfect conduit for this character which was a custom fit. I will echo the sentiment from the crew that without Mr. McHattie, there would be no film. Siobhan Murphy was gorgeous as the mysterious femme fatale and guide for Charlie, and it was great to see Canadian indie directing great Bruce McDonald play a cameo role in what was probably my favourite part of the film in which creepy detective Cliff Ryan (Mark Gibson) recounts the fates of doomed cemetery staff before Charlie.
Writer Tony Burgess, who also wrote Pontypool and Septic Man, was also at the screening. Always entertaining, he told the audience that he at first balked at the story Geddes brought to him. The world as a cemetery? He thought it was “bat shit crazy”, but committed to it anyway. What looked crazy on paper ended up being a great story, examining one man’s relationship with his mortality and love to become an unlikely, but worthy hero. This team of Geddes, Burgess, McHattie et al can stay together if they are going to bring us thoughtful and beautiful films like Hellmouth. Treat yourself and go see this weird and exciting marriage of retro-stylized horror and technology.