I haven’t really dug the releases of Foresight Features, the Canadian production company responsible for Monster Brawl and Septic Man. Their latest venture, Hellmouth, piqued my interest since it comes from Pontypool writer Tony Burgess and stars the reliable Stephen McHattie, who’s always a welcome face on screen. The 67-year-old actor kills it in every role he takes on – from big productions like The Fountain to smaller outings like Pontypool and A History of Violence, McHattie always brings the heat.
In Hellmouth he plays Charlie Baker, a terminally ill cemetery caretaker who’s forced to travel into the inferno to take on his own personal demons and rescue the soul of a beautiful woman. The film is meant to be a throwback to 1950s horror, combining gothic adventure with CGI-laden backgrounds and characters. For the most part, the visuals are very potent, particularly during the black-and-white-heavy first act. The cemetery Baker works at is steeped in shadows and eerie contrast (à la Sin City) – the perfect stage for a little throwback fun.
As the film progresses, the visuals get worse and worse. This was the perfect opportunity to deliver some face-crushing demon designs, but instead the ones on screen are pretty damn boring and kinda cheap. Luckily, the visuals always serve McHattie. It’s meant to be like his fever dream – a heightened reality from hell he’s traveling through. This background noise never detracts from McHattie’s phenomenal, commanding performance.
Baker’s worked his whole life as a gravedigger and caretaker. On the cusp of retiring to sunny Florida, his boss informs him that he has to keep working at another, even more isolated cemetery. If he refuses, they take away his pension. When he travels to this other cemetery, the tale begins twisting and turning into fields that don’t always feel coherent. A few scenes and scenarios feel tacked on (there’s an escaped convict interjection that feels terribly out of place) and some of it is downright confusing. I never expected the nether regions of Hell to make a whole lotta sense, but some cohesiveness in Hellmouth’s story would’ve been appreciated. It’s not entirely a cluster-fuck, but this bastard’s all over the place at times.
All of this confusion follows a lengthy expositional scene in which a local sheriff explains the history of the other gravediggers to Baker. Despite making the film drag, this scene’s pretty cool and features cameos from Julian Richings (Cube) and Pontypool director Bruce McDonald. Ultimately the film suffers under both its heavy exposition and muddled second half. McHattie does a terrific job anchoring the film where he can, but in the end Hellmouth is damned by its unfocused ambition.