Hell (Narok) Review
Driving through the night, six members of a film crew sleep soundly in the back of a minibus, their faces pressed against the window as the road passes. In the front, the driver struggles to keep his eyes open and focused on the road but as a bus drives towards them, lit down its length with coloured bulbs, he falls asleep and his minibus crashes into the bus. The head-on collision draws both vehicles to a halt and the night falls silent.
Twenty-five hours earlier, the film crew receive the assignment that draws them onto the road. Sent out into the countryside on a location shoot, they're an unlikely bunch. The eldest of the group, Toa (Kom Chauncheun), is a drunk who physically abuses his wife whilst Chot (Punyapon Dhajsonk) walks out on Ja (Nathawan Woravit), his pregnant girlfriend, for Kim (Dollaya Polthipattayakul), a young intern who's recently joined the company. Bringing with them crates of beer, pornographic magazines and their personal problems - there's a coldness in the air as the minibus pulls out - they leave the city and their fateful meeting with the bus.
In the aftermath of the collision and as their bodies are pulled from the wreckage in the real world, the seven men and women find themselves in a strange and desolate place. As they step out of the minibus, the world changes before them, the night sky and the road transforming into a bright red desert out of which come several figures armed with spears and curved swords. Frightened, the seven are pointed towards a hellish dustbowl, in which men, women and children are disembowelled, have their tongues pulled out and are tossed into boiling metal. As their bodies lie in hospital with their loved ones around them, their spirits are tortured in the next life but can one escape from Hell?
"Hell is only a word...the reality is much, much worse!" Paul WS Anderson may have had something else in mind when he brought those words in Event Horizon but, as fate would have it, he was quite correct. Hell may only be a word but this film is utter bollocks, much, much worse than any evidence the prosecution may wish to bring to the court as regards Anderson and Uwe Boll. Indeed, coming after a viewing of Hell, which was titled Narok on its release in Thailand, I have to hand it to Uwe Boll. Much as I was somewhat derisory towards his Bloodrayne, his film, in comparison to this, masterwork, the outstanding creation of a mind unparalleled in modern cinema and a moment of particular genius in a career littered with them. Granted, his extras do tend to loiter and hack rather disinterestedly at the corpses and one particular effect was, shall we say, haphazard but nothing, absolutely nothing in Bloodrayne is as woefully unimpressive as Hell. Not even Billy Zane!
The troubles begin soon after the film opens, which sees the seven characters introduced hand-in-hand with their flaws. Toa prays in a lawn but holds a tin of beer in his as he does so, Ja confides in Chot that she is pregnant with his child once he prises him away from Kim whilst Lae ogles at a porn mag. In this age of enlightenment within the Catholic Church, where not even the Vatican has Hell as a pit of fire and brimstone, these seven are dealt something of a medieval blow as they're hauled out of this world and into one in which pain and suffering lasts for an eternity. Or that may be the feeling one gets from watching this film...
No matter, as they get shoved through Hell by extras fresh from their two minutes in the make-up room - a dab of face paint here, the costumes from Duran Duran's Wild Boys video there and a final touch of some unbelievably fake-looking facial hair - they witness terrible torture. Or at least they might do - the actors inability to express themselves don't make things terribly clear and the budget doesn't stretch to actually seeing any of this - but the sound effects do imply that terrible things are afoot, not least the performances of the various demons and a Satan who's a bit more chunky than the lord of the Underworld ought to be. Ja, for example, has her hands crushed by a pair of massive foam mallets that bounce around as they strike the ground, there's a touch of Hellraiser in the wire struck through flesh and there seems to be several innovative methods of delivering pain by the use of rope. Innovative in the sense that they look to be entirely painless with one particular actor wearing a rope more in the manner of a hairband than ever looking at risk from it.
None of this is entirely without laughs, albeit unintentional. The various zombies, which are, I admit, a new one on me as regards the afterlife, are great fun, being the kind of hopelessly shambling members of the undead that would have Lucio Fulci's swifter, shark-killing zombie tutting aloud. If, that is, he was still in possession of a tongue. There are some demon children, who, from being the father of three kids, actually aren't any more terrifying than a crowd of real seven- and eight-year-olds other than that they appear to devour a woman in mere seconds as opposed to plates of Cadbury's Cake Bars, Jammy Dodgers and Cheesy Wotsits. But there is one terrific laugh as Tao, who's close to escaping from Hell with his friends actually dies in the real life and via a short detour to visit his corpse, is torn from them and deposited at an entirely different location where, spotted by a particularly unfriendly looking demon, he finds himself parted from his digestive tract, the torture beginning all over again. That the various other sinners don't suffer this ignominy would suggest that the filmmakers disapprove, above all else, of the demon drink. An oddly Presbyterian view of Hell.
However, most disappointing given the cover is that Hell, the film and the place, doesn't feature quite as much nudity as I'd always thought it might. It would appear that whilst lying on a searing desert with one's intestines hanging in the branches of a tree overhead, one ought to protect one's modesty with the ladies favouring the wearing of a tight vest, which allows glimpses of décolletage but no more, whilst the men choose loose-fitting clothing that, though bloodied, remains surprisingly intact. There is some very brief nudity late in the film but the three incubi are quite coy, leaving one bare breast and some distant buttocks underwhelming compared to what is promised by the cover and some youthful musings on what Hell might be like. "Fire, brimstone, point things...well yes but everyone will be naked!!!" Unfortunately, it would seem not.
Presented anamorphically in 1.78:1, which is unlikely to have been cropped. this isn't a bad transfer but is blighted by the awful CG effects, which leaves Hell with a shimmering in the foreground. I suspect that this may have been added to suggest an intolerable heat in Hell, one of so many things that could be described as such in this film, but the filmmakers must have been cock-a-hoop that it also obscured the hamfisted gore effects. Unfortunately, this leaves Hell looking much worse than it ought to with the best of it being the otherwise ordinary-looking early scenes set in this world. The three audio tracks offered are typical of Anchor Bay, being Thai DD2.0, DD5.1 and DTS. They're actually pretty good, making obvious use of the surrounds during the crash, which is very impressive, and the various rumblings that dot the aural landscape of Hell. The English subtitles look to do the job and are without any misspelt words.
Hell, like so many Anchor Bay releases, comes with a fair set of extras but, in that, obvious ones. As well as a Trailer (1m51s) and a very short Behind the Scenes (6m55s) feature, there are also interviews with the directors Sathit Praditsarn and Teekayu Thamnitayakul as well as six members of the main cast. These interviews last for between two and three minutes and are mostly concerned with their being cast in the film and their experiences on the set. No one, it would seem, is prepared to apologise for the atrocious quality of the film or to enter into a debate on whether the making of this piece of shit might well have damned them to an eternity of being prodded in the arse by a horned devil. Still...all of these features are presented in Thai DD2.0 but are subtitled in English.
I'm not actually going to try and make sense of why these six kids and Tao were actually in Hell while they were actually only in a coma in the real world and not dead. That might, like not hanging up on a cold caller, only encourage the makers of Hell into thinking that there is anything approaching logic here when, as you might suspect, it's utter nonsense. But not entertainingly so, leaving this an unnecessarily long ninety-seven minutes that lumbers under some appropriately Boschian visions of Hell but without the dazzling style to realise it. Or indeed any style at all.