Two more different films could not have been placed on one screener disc than Held Hostage and Necromentia, but that's what Image Entertainment did here. Neither is a towering work of cinematic excellence, though Necromentia definitely has a unique vision, and a decidedly darker one than its companion film.
Held Hostage is part bank heist film, and part Lifetime Network trademarked put upon woman film. Michelle (Julie Benz) is a single mother and bank manager, fairly happy in her life, though still struggling with memories of an abusive childhood. The happiness comes to an abrupt end when masked men break into her home and hold her hostage, along with her young daughter Breea (Natasha Calis). The men want Michelle to steal the next morning's armored car shipment, and strap dynamite to her and the girl to force her to follow their orders.
She does follow the orders, and delivers to them several hundred thousand dollars in cash. However, the police, and in particular Detective Summers (Bruce McGill), are suspicious of her story and think that she was involved in the caper from the beginning. This puts quite a strain on Michelle and Breea, and they do their best to pull through.
Julie Benz does a pretty good job as the put upon woman here, and quite believably runs through the gamut of emotions necessary, and Bruce McGill has done this kind of thing a thousand times. Other than these two, the performances are okay, but not great. The robbers never call up the kind of menace necessary, and everyone seems to be phoning in to some extent. Even McGill comes off as flat when delivering a particularly clunky bit of dialogue, telling Michelle that she is no longer a suspect. This speaks to the broader problem with the film, that it merely hits the expected notes for a Lifetime film, and barely tries for anything more. The resolution is too pat, and no real sense of danger is ever generated. Having said this, technically the film looks good, with the professionalism of the behind the scenes crew easily detectable. Overall, though, the film is a rental at best.
Whereas Held Hostage takes place in world of goodness and light, where women may be maligned by bank robbers and cynical district attorneys, but eventually win through, Necromentia is located in a much darker world, one filled with demons, and necromancers and guys who live in rusted, filthy apartments and get paid by people who want to be tortured. The story is told in reverse order, with events shown first that chronologically happened last, which does allow for some interesting reevaluation of things as time goes on and different perspectives are seen.
The story revolves around Travis (Chad Grimes), Morbius (Layton Matthews) a bartender, his girlfriend Elizabeth (Zelieann Rivera) and the other man with whom she is inexplicably romantically involved, Hagen (Santiago Craig). Also present is Thomas (Zach Cumer), Travis's mentally retarded brother, confined to a wheelchair, who sits around watching static on the television and dreaming of a vile, pig headed clown named Mr. Skinny (Nathan Ginn) who tells him how great it would be to kill himself.
Relaying the plot in great detail would reveal too many plot points that are fun to figure out as the story goes on, but suffice it to say that murder, betrayal, torture, drug use, necromancy, necrophilia, demons and the hidden gates to the underworld are involved. Director Pearry Teo certainly has a unique (and dark and cynical and twisted) vision of the world and how it works, and he artfully presents that vision in this film. The performances are all restrained, in a good way. This kind of film easily lends itself to overwrought bombast, but the actors keep a tight hold on the reins, lending the film a feeling of groundedness, even when so many bizarre things are going on. (Though Layton Matthews as Morbius can be a tad too hammy at times.) The effects look to be mostly practical, and are quite believable, even during the torture scenes.
The relentlessly cynical and morbid tone of the film are bound to be off putting to some, and the film is indeed difficult to watch at points. Necromentia is a film targeted toward a small spectrum even of horror fandom, but it delivers the goods to that select group. Definitely not for everyone, but for the right viewer, it's golden.
Both films are presented in 1.78:1 widescreen, and look good for the most part. Held Hostage has some graininess, and Necromentia suffers occasionally from posterization, but both overall are fine. However, this review is based on a check disc, so no comment can be made on the quality of the final product.
Sound is in Dolby digital 2 channel, and is passable for both films. No subtitles or alternate language tracks are available. However, this review is based on a check disc, so no comment can be made on the quality of the final product.
The only extras on the disc are trailers for Held Hostage, Necromentia, That Evening Sun, Jimi Hendrix: Guitar Hero, Multiple Sarcasms, Blood Done Sign My Name, $5 a Day, Skellig the Owl Man and Legends of the Canyon. However, this review is based on a check disc, so no comment can be made on the quality or quantity of extras on the final product.
Both Held Hostage and Necromentia are films that speak to a particular subset of filmgoers, and neither makes much of an effort to push outside of their small audience. Both are competently produced, with thought and effort put into the projects, and each has its flaws. Overall, they're rentals.