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Wednesday, August 25, 2010

NECROMENTIA -- DVD review by porfle

For a low-budget indy horror flick, Pearry Teo's NECROMENTIA (2009) is a pretty impressive piece of work.  How entertaining it is depends on your expectations.  While I didn't find any of it particularly scary, it has a desolate, creepy-crawly vibe that gets under your skin.  In musical terms, it's less of a rock-out and more of a dirge.

The story revolves around three men whose fates are linked by an obsession with bringing departed loved ones back from the dead.  Hagen (Santiago Craig) laboriously preserves the body of his beloved Elizabeth while holding on to her promise that if she died she would return to him.  Travis (Chad Grimes) loses his wheelchair-bound brother Thomas (Zach Cumer) to suicide while caring for him, which drives him to seek supernatural help.  Unfortunately, this comes in the form of Morbius (Layton Matthews), a mysterious and deceptive underworld figure with his own secret agenda.

Watching the unhinged but diligent Hagen at work on Elizabeth's decaying body with his makeshift mechanical devices while mumbling busily to her is strange enough, but seeing what Travis does for a living will test your "torture porn" tolerance.  Suffice to say it involves clients who crave intense pain.  Most of the other graphic stuff consists of the usual old-school gore such as disembowelings and slashings.  The latter comes into play mainly when a character wishes to enter Hell or send someone there, which can be achieved by carving large arcane symbols upon the flesh.  Travis performs the procedure on Hagen as part of his deal with Morbius (for reasons that we discover later on) in order to rescue his brother.

Director Teo uses his limited resources to give the film a rich, often nightmarish atmosphere.  The claustrophobic sets are dark and decadent-looking with lots of painstaking retro detail, exquisite lighting, and artfully muted colors.  "Hell" is depicted mainly as a long underground tunnel lined with pipes and electrical wiring, where lurks a tall, shambling monster that is a triumph of makeup design.  Much of the film's visual sense and overall tone are, as Teo is quick to admit, inspired by Clive Barker, while still being unique and original.

Direction and editing are painstakingly good, but Teo is in no hurry to rush us through a sensory thrill ride.  He takes his time with scenes such as the one in which Travis slowly shaves the trembling Hagen with a straight razor or carves a ticket-to-Hell symbol on his back with the meticulous care of a tattoo artist.  Things get wonderfully surreal when Travis leaves Thomas alone in front of the TV and the boy's demented mind conjures the bizarre, carnival-like "Mr. Skinny Show", starring an obese man in pig mask and diapers who dances around singing a cheerful ditty about suicide.  The television itself is an impressive display of the set designer's imagination. 

As Travis, Chad Grimes gives an intense performance that's one of the best things about the film.  He really is interesting to watch, especially in his scenes with the equally-good Zach Cumer as Thomas.  Both Santiago Craig as Hagen and Layton Matthews as Morbius do well at playing the two different phases of their characters, before and after the death of Elizabeth, while Zelieann Rivera is compelling as the duplicitous, darkly-alluring woman who sets it all into motion.

The DVD from Image Entertainment is in 1.78:1 widescreen with Dolby Digital 5.1 sound.  Subtitles are in English and Spanish.  Extras include an entertainingly yakky commentary track with director Teo and actors Chad Grimes and Crow Garrett, a lengthy interview segment with Teo and Grimes, and a trailer. 

Not a firecracker but a slow burn, NECROMENTIA will probably be too slow and ponderous for some viewers but should offer rewards for horror fans patient enough to settle into it.  I haven't revealed much about how the story eventually winds its way around the three protagonists or even mentioned Morbius' mortal origins, how he became an infernal being, and what his motives are regarding Travis and Hagen.  Discovering how it all fits together is part of the fun.  I did find the ending abrupt and unsatisfying at first, but upon second viewing it took on a morbidly melancholy edge that seems to work.  

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