Hellmouth John Geddes
Published Oct 21, 2014John Geddes' Hellmouth is a kaleidoscopic vision of hell that tantalizes with some bewitching visuals but ultimately comes off more as funhouse ride than movie. It's at least grounded by a powerful presence in the lead role, with the great Canadian actor Stephen McHattie starring as Charlie, the gravedigger and caretaker of a cemetery. Charlie is on the brink of escaping his dreary existence of being ridiculed by neighbourhood kids and retiring to sunny Florida when he's presented with an offer that he literally can't refuse, if only because it's being forced upon him by his threatening boss, Mr. Whinny (Boyd Banks).
Having been diagnosed with a strange rattle in his brain and given only a couple of years to live, Charlie reluctantly agrees to take an urgent assignment at another cemetery — only something happens along the way. He picks up an alluring stranger (Siobhan Murphy) straight from a film noir, appears to depart from reality altogether and journeys into a surreal realm that's somewhere in the mouth of madness.
Using a similar technique to that which brought Frank Miller's graphic novels to life in the Sin City films, Geddes replaces the green screens behind his actors with meticulously rendered palettes of grey and black, occasionally shot through with bursts of colour. There are times when this succeeds in its aspiration to set the story in an otherworldly landscape in which demons routinely spring to life, but there are others where it merely looks like people standing in front of an unconvincing matte painting.
The bigger problem is that the story often borders on the incomprehensible, choosing to evoke a feeling of what's happening rather than explicitly spelling things out. It's an experimental approach that's not entirely unwelcome, as it manages to cast a spooky and unsettling spell that's more memorable than most generic horror fare, but it makes it increasingly difficult to stay invested in Charlie's character as he eventually winds up in some version of hell for reasons that remain murky.
Still, even with the narrative going off the rails, McHattie keeps your attention with that weathered face and his weary determination. The man's been on everything from Walker, Texas Ranger to Seinfeld and even narrated BASEketball, but he remains committed to appearing in homegrown films like the unique zombie flick Pontypool, whose director, Bruce McDonald, appears in a small role here while its screenwriter Tony Burgess provides the script. McHattie's somehow more impressive than all the flashy effects going on around him, and almost convincing enough to make us believe that they're real.