GEHENNA: WHERE DEATH LIVES is the first feature-length directorial effort from long-time effects artist Hiroshi Katagiri. The film follows a team of real-estate developers in Saipan (a US territory in the Northern Mariana Islands) that become trapped in an old Japanese WWII bunker. In addition to the claustrophobia and paranoia, the team encounters evil spirits lingering in the twisting, dark caves.

The marketing also proudly touts Doug Jones (The Shape of Water, Hellboy) and Lance Henriksen (Aliens, Scream 3) with “above the title” poster credits. In addition, Katagiri worked for the late Stan Winston, with titles like Jurassic Park III, Blade Trinity, Doom, and Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem among his impressive credits. With this setup, GEHENNA looks like a sure-fire winner. But is it?

the film shines whenever the practical creature and makeup effects take center stage

Unsurprisingly, the film shines whenever the practical creature and makeup effects take center stage. Katagiri brings all of his experience to bear with a cadre of monsters designed to torment the lead cast, not to mention infect your nightmares. But, at a lengthy 105-minutes, GEHENNA tries to sell an overly complicated story. Long, expository breaks in between the creature-feature action force the cast to carry the load.

That might not be a bad thing, considering the caliber of the top-billed talent. Alas, Henriksen literally phones in his performance with only a brief cameo. Meanwhile, Jones spends his meager screentime covered in makeup. (I know, what else is new?) GEHENNA fills the balance of the runtime with a group of relatively unknown B-movie veterans. Justin Gordon (Absentia, Before I Wake) carries most of the film, along with Simon Phillips and Eva Swan. If watching for a glimpse of horror icons, a glimpse is all you get, so keep your expectations in check.

Henriksen literally phones in his performance

Overall, GEHENNA features flashes of brilliance and moments of true terror, separated by long breaks of utter boredom. That said, the great moments are truly a sight to behold. Jones, in particular, is terrifying, and Katagiri clearly learned a thing or two over the years about how to scare an audience. Just, don’t expect the scares to make sense or invoke sympathy for relatable characters.

GEHENNA features flashes of brilliance …separated by long breaks of utter boredom.

It almost feels like the director created a handful of terrifying set pieces, and wrote a story to loosely tie them together. Thus, the film pales in comparison to classic claustrophobic creature features like The Descent or As Above So Below. The pacing drags down what could have otherwise been a truly fun experience. As it is, only the hardest of hard-core effects nerds are likely to get something out of it, and the rest should probably pass.

GEHENNA: WHERE DEATH LIVES will be playing in select theaters beginning May 4, 2018.