A western businessman (Cary Elwes), his Thai wife and son experience a horrible accident while visiting Bangkok. In the aftermath, they find there is a shadow world between life and death where endless darkness lies.
This film is also known in some places as Shadows, which did at first cause some confusion, but I personally think that Shadows was in fact a better suited name for the movie. Although ‘Hellgate’ is still slightly relevant, I feel like it’s a little too generic and instantly puts viewers into the expectations of some religious type of film. But, whilst Hellgate does have some religious connotations, I’d say that it was in fact more ‘spiritual’ than anything else.
So, we’ve all heard the expression ‘They’ll stay with you forever’ being used when someone you love dies, but Hellgate decides to take this much more literally. Jeff Matthews (played by Cary Elwes) meets his wife and son at the airport in Bangkok and is just driving them home when a horrendous car accident ensues which leaves both Jeff’s wife and son dead. When Jeff awakes in hospital, he remarks that he doesn’t feel grief or anger, he doesn’t feel anything – and this is because he has left a part of himself there at the roadside with his loved ones. He begins to get visions of twisted, disturbed people who want his help, and after trying the medical route to fix this, he is taken to a spiritual woman. It is then discovered that his connection with this other world is killing him, and that he basically needs to be able to ‘let go’ of his family in order to continue living his life in peace. Doing this is anything but tricky, and involves battling against nasty demon creatures who want to attack anything they see.
I would actually describe Hellgate as Dragonfly meets Stay meets Insidious, because I can see influences from all three of these films. It is similar to Dragonfly because of the tragedy at the start, with both of the main characters losing their family, and then becoming almost tormented by strange happenings. Stay is also along these lines, and requires the main character to go back to the terrible incident. In Hellgate, Jeff Matthews ends up returning to his worst ever moment and making the choice to change things. Finally, I would liken it to Insidious because both films have this ‘other world’ where people can cross (in Insidious The Further and in Hellgate the Shadowland). Plus there were several good jump scares which just screams Insidious to me. In addition, the way that Jeff’s ‘hallucinations’ are portrayed are very reminiscent of Japanese horror (something which the Americans seem to like doing) – with pale people, wearing contact lenses and dark hair. One bit was even taken directly out of The Ring (where one of these ‘ghosts’ places a hand on Jeff’s arm and the mark stays there even when he ‘snaps out of it’.
I’d say that the performances in this one (most notably from Cary Elwes and William Hurt) are fairly average and there wasn’t much depth or variation with the emotions that had to be portrayed. The cast as a whole were fine, but I felt there was a lack of any true emotions being elicited from the viewer, and this is a severe let-down for a movie attempting to be so poignant and meaningful.
Hellgate doesn’t waste any time on any character development which could be looked at as both a positive and negative thing. On one hand, any more background about Jeff and his wife and child would have taken up extra time that could have been devoted to more demon-bashing. However, I feel like the story would have benefited from just a bit of context, perhaps through the use of flashbacks – Hollywood’s favourite film technique! Because the viewer only experiences Jeff’s family for about five minutes at the start of the movie, we can’t really form any sort of connection to them, and then, because the entire film hinges on Jeff’s relationship with them, things just feel a little superficial and stereotypical.
I feel like the downfall of this film is not necessarily how it was shot or the dialogue (although it was rather minimalist) or the locations, but it was more a problem to do with the lack of originality. The concepts explored in Hellgate are nothing that audiences haven’t seen before. It is for this reason that I wouldn’t really recommend it to anyone. I mean, it is watchable but don’t expect anything groundbreaking.