November 30, 2020 Beyond Hell (Movie Review)
Six friends mess with the wrong drug and end up trapped inside a hellacious nightmare in the new film Beyond Hell. Indican Pictures delivers the Supernatural Thriller to Digital HD/On Demand on December 15, 2020 via Apple TV, Google Play, Prime Video, FandangoNOW and more…plus on DVD on January 12, 2021.
A feature-length debut for Writer-Director Alan Murray (Exposed short 2014), Beyond Hell takes a drug-induced ride into the bowels of the inferno and stands face-to-face with the devil Belial. But it all begins with Seth (Sean Rey: Hemlock Grove series, Rev 2020), who has recently returned from a trip to South America and is now holding a get-together at his home to share a very special souvenir.
Expecting a big party, the ladies—Heather (Dominique Smith: The Charter 2018, Black Lightning series), Brook (Natalie Jane: Paranormal Witness series, Vicious Fun 2020), and Maryssa (Kearsten Johansson: Forbidden: Dying For Love series, Samantha short 2018)—get all dolled up before they meet up with Jake (Sebastian Deery: Fall Out Boy’s “Centuries” music video 2014, Pure Pwnage 2016) and Tyson (Chris Kapeleris: The Kennedys After Camelot mini-series, Hotel Limbo 2020).
Once reunited, the friends follow Seth’s lead and partake of an Ayahuasca-based drug in an attempt to open their minds to a whole new level of consciousness and tap into their third eyes. Unfortunately for Maryssa, her trip goes horribly wrong and she ends up in the clutches of the demon Belial (Gavin R. Downes: Exposed short 2014, Essaie short 2019), who seeks to open a gateway between his world and Earth.
Not long after this collision with the supernatural, one of the friends ends up murdered, a police investigator (Richard Collier: Timeline 2003, 16 Blocks 2006) takes the case, and a second friend is accused of the crime and placed under lockdown in a psychiatric hospital. With one friend dead and the others’ lives in jeopardy, can they find a way to defeat Belial before it’s too late?
Beyond Hell aims high. While its lofty goal appears to be a Horror-Fantasy on par with the work of Guillermo del Toro, instead it fails on many levels, dooming itself to be little more than an F-grade Supernatural Thriller with these ambitious goals. So where does the film go wrong?
Well, that’s hard to say. The foundation of every film is its screenplay, and Beyond Hell’s is banal, at best. While not entirely horrible, it’s a demon-driven story with flat characters and little plot development; but there is a bestial creation with jagged teeth and they seem to hope that this is enough. But it’s not, as the ability to bring fantastical visions to life on a big screen requires a massive budget, of which Murray obviously lacked. So though the facial prosthetics, namely Belial’s mouth, are decently executed by Locked in the Cellar Creations, his cruller-like horns and mess of a torso are a mish-mash of failed techniques.
When creating creatures on the cheap, the less time they are on screen, the less time viewers have to pick apart their flaws. Case in point, there’s a screaming banshee-like creation that appears for a second and it works fairly well. Although, Belial is not a complete write off. Thanks to actor Downes, who is able to exaggerate his expressions despite the prosthetics, the demon is, at the very least, a dominating presence. Downes’ use of body language, as well as the evil he communicates with his eyes, adds more to the story than any of the attempts to alter his physical appearance. And though the effects added to the actor’s voice are cliche, Belial is at least done well enough to give a sense of Murray’s intentions had he possessed an unlimited budget.
Unfortunately, much of the remainder of Beyond Hell lacks attention to detail and the poor cast is doomed to never fully overcome the screenplay’s weakness or the issues with its visual presentation. Case in point, the film’s opening scene is a ridiculous romp ‘in the jungle’ that should never have made the final cut, as it’s apt to lose viewers in the first three minutes of runtime. Some of the other oddities found throughout include a bong session with CGI smoke, green screen effects that are unnecessary and cheapen the overall look and feel of the film, as well as one scene that heads off into the cosmos and feels more Sci-Fi than what this story is aiming toward.
The blood and guts and special fx makeup is also poorly done, again with a lack of attention to detail. Maryssa, a light blonde, frequently gets covered in crimson and grime but her hair remains flawless. Admittedly, this never ruins the film, but there does come a point when a million tiny little things add up and point toward a lack of attentiveness to the small details that can make a major difference. And, most importantly, one of these issues is the acting.
Aside from Downes’ Belial, Deery’s Jake leads the pack as far as a consistent performance and doing his best with the material he is given. Which isn’t much: he’s at the center of a love triangle and that is literally all we know about him. Many of his castmates are given even less to work with, with Kapeleris’ Tyson as the jock of the group and his girlfriend, Smith’s Heather, as the best friend in the middle of enemies Brook and Maryssa. While Jane delivers a solid ‘mean girl’ performance as Brook, she has awkward moments where she simply stands in the middle of the action looking lost. Kapeleris and Smith, unfortunately, are largely cannon fodder.
Thus, it is lead actress Johansson who is put in the toughest positions. As Maryssa, she is initially asked to be the shy ‘Girl Next Door,’ but this eventually shifts as her character is forced to take on the evil entity. There is a point in the story where Johansson’s acting shifts from solid to stiff and reminiscent of Kristen Stewart in 2008’s Twilight. Which is to say that she goes through the motions stone-faced, with little to no affect, and therefore feels robotic in the role. In this, it appears that Johansson is quite comfortable playing an every-girl who has light-hearted, bubbly moments, but perhaps not as comfortable crawling through the levels of Hell.
Really, there are a lot of issues with Beyond Hell that prevent the film from ever reaching its fullest potential. Its biggest visual foibles only serve to degrade its predictable and banal story, leaving it to feel more 1999’s End of Days than 2004’s Hellboy. Not that Murray is aiming for either of these comparisons, as his intentions are unique if flawed. Which cycles us back to the script, which never even approaches the most important question—Why did Belial choose Maryssa?
Overwhelmed by too many flaws stemming from a myriad of issues and a lack of finesse, viewers are left to wonder what Beyond Hell might have been. Sure, the story is predictable and can barely fill its succinct 89 minute runtime, but there is something inside its walls that shows a level of promise. Though it fails to properly translate its grandiose intentions to the big screen in a way that is fully engaging, Beyond Hell is, at the very least, able to hold its head up high and not intentionally devolve into sheer ridiculousness. For this, Cryptic Rock gives Beyond Hell 2.5 of 5 stars.