Logic dictates that if you're going to rip-off some celebrated horror titles, why not steal from the best? Why be original when you can meld Hellraiser together with Hostel and Saw to craft a fright forgery that only the discerning macabre maven will recognize? Sadly, director Pearry Teo and his co-writer Stephanie Joyce are not that subtle. So in love with Clive Barker's Cenobites and their intertwining underworld of pleasure and pain that they literally quote their "exquisite suffering" mantras almost verbatim, they turn an attempted non-linear experiment in terror into a drinking game of "guess the reference." Had it not been done first - and better - by the English Stephen King and his crew, we'd be championing this unusual outsider film. But for all its attempted atmosphere and Se7en title sequence inspired editing, Necromentia just can't stand on its own. It's a fatal flaw.
Travis has three massive strikes against him. Forced to take care of his handicapped younger brother Tommy, he is living on a measly stipend provided by his late parents. Even worse, he's addicted to heroin, forced to work in a seedy sex club where he performs "erotic tortures" for hire. Lastly, he's now found himself in league with the forces of darkness. Seems the suicidal tendencies of his wheelchair bound sibling have attracted the attention of a demon named Morbius. Using Travis' need for drugs as a means of contacting him, they strike up a bargain. If he can learn the ways of "Necromancing", and find another named soiled soul namesd Hagen, the imp will save his brother's soul. If he fails, however - and there is a good chance that the target will not go quietly - he too will find himself living in Hell.
Told in a surreal, almost wholly disconnected manner and loaded with more jittery jump cuts than an editorial student hopped up on Red Bull, Necromentia is a well intentioned but wholly unnecessary effort. It does showcase the limited if completely borrowed vision of director Pearry Teo and boasts a few sequences of sensational monster F/X and splatter. But since the story is so outrageously familiar, since we can almost quote the Clive Barker inspired dialogue word for word, the superfluous nature of the results speak for themselves. Granted, the man who made his Books of Blood a Goth guy/gal primer has probably ruined the concept for all who come after, but that's not good enough for Teo and his partner in crime, Stephanie Joyce. They also plug into the whole Jigsaw/Eli Roth region of torture porn, giving their drug addict hero a job slicing and dicing patrons for pay at a skuzzy S&M bar. Add in the pigheaded (literally) figment of Tommy's imagination that plays like a naked fat guy running around with a prosthetic swine face, the Combat Shock slumming of their residence, the nods to Nekromantik and an overall Tobe Hooper tone and you've got enough homages to choke a portly sex demon.
But that's not good enough for Mr. Teo. Indeed, Necromentia often feels like every post-modern horror movie made in the last 10 years filtered through a less than selective cinematic sieve. It's the byproduct of too many nights obsessive over the latest home video releases. Even worse, while the intentions may be good, the follow through is incredibly flawed. James Wan's manic music video style coupled with a healthy dose of David Fincher and "Closer" era Mark Romanek wouldn't begin to describe what Teo attempts here. To call his approach all over the map would be degrading to topographists everywhere. There are times when he holds the lens, when he lets scenes play out organically and dramatically. But it's rare. Instead, every post-production trick in the book, from slo-mo to sped-up shaky cam is employed to keep us off balance and disturbed. Apparently, a sense of aesthetic queasiness is the same as suspense in this wannabe auteur's book. Sure, we enjoy the infrequent moments when eyes are gouged out with meat hook efficiency, and one character gets his face bashed in with mush melon meanness. But outside of an original conceit, it's all gratuitously gory nonsense.
In fact, the plausibility factor is major part of Necromentia's problem. No, we aren't arguing over demons using humans to forward their unholy aims. That would be just as ridiculous. Instead, the whole storyline stumbles around and into itself with insane frequency. For example, Travis only gets $300 a month from the family trust to care for his brother. As a result, they are in dire straits (of course, he could be shooting up the scratch...). Apparently, there is no such thing as Social Security or local Health and Human Services in the fictional town where they live. Even when he wants to kill himself, Travis can't get any organized help for Tommy. Huh? And why is the crippled kid so psychotic. The link between his raging dementia and need to destroy himself (or anyone else) makes about as much sense as the kiddie porn host pig man running around, shaking his belly flab. And then there is Morbius' tale. As a wronged suitor, as the man whose life is unhinged by an adulterous woman, why does he end up a Satanic servant? Seems like all you have to do is agree and you've part of the fire and brimstone brigade. There is no denying the stylistic intentions on display here. But movies have to get by on more than ambition. In the case of Necormentia, the genre can't survive such mannered motives.
Offered by Image Entertainment in a 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer, the visual elements of Necromentia are polished, if a little redundant. After all, how many times can you experience the bile green backdrops of Saw or the desaturated look of a your typical torture porn and not feel like you've plainly seen it all before. The details are nice, showing off the intense special effects quite well. All in all, the optical aspects of this release are well done, if still overly familiar.
Here's a fact - director Teo clearly hired composer Timothy Andrew Edwards because he gives good Christopher Young. From the opening chime of a steeple bell to the various guttural orchestral moans throughout, the score here is Hellraiser-lite - and the Dolby Digital Stereo 2.0 mix delivers it with a decent amount of ambience. The dialogue is always clear and the various sound cues come across loud and clear. From a purely technical standpoint, Necromentia is a polished, professional presentation.
Lucky us - there's the standard backslapping commentary track where Teo and members of the cast endlessly praise and offer heavy handed analysis of their efforts. Similar ground is covered in the accompanying interview featurette. Add in a trailer, and that's the added content.
You have to be careful who and what you mimic. Even three decades later, Clive Barker's Hellraiser is a benchmark in post-modern horror. You just don't crib from its content with the wanton disregard shown by Necromentia. In some ways, it plays like an adolescent's fever dream reinterpretation of said classic's core conceits. Deserving little more than a Rent It, it's up to the fright film maven to decide whether or not Teo has gone overboard with his various "inspirations." There is homage, and then there is cinematic highway robbery. Necromentia is one blatant, bumbling bandit.