A lowkey party experiments into a new drug called Changa, brought back from South America by one the friends but is no ordinary narcotic. After inhaled, Changa opens a conduit to an infernal dimension oppressively reigned by Belial, a trickster demon seeking to rule the world of man. Channeling his dark energy through the utterly wholesome Maryssa, Belial exploits her innocence to reach her friends and one-by-one their hallucinogenic and horrible deaths give way to releasing their souls to him. Once he obtains enough souls, Belial will be able to freely walk the Earth and damn everyone on the planet into servitude. Its up to Maryssa and her remaining friends to thwart Belial diabolical plans and send him back to Hell.
Is seeing disembodied, outreaching arms and shape-shifting demons covered in broken glass and tentacles to the effect of a gateway drug!? The invasively surreal and drug repercussion-themed “Beyond Hell” is the 2019, pre-apocalyptic. doom and damnation, survival thriller from writer-director Alan Murray in his first feature film production. The Cambridge, Ontario born filmmaker shoots in his home country to entertain and scare audiences with a version of religious text’s prime opposition to God, the Devil, in the form of the heavily prosthetic and dastardly theatrical Belial. “Beyond Hell” is a co-produced by Murray alongside Gavin Downes under the Dark Spirits Films banner with Don Smith, Jacqui Smith, and Christopher Lane serving as the film’s capital investments of executive producers.
“Beyond Hell” plays considerably into the slasher blueprint that aims to off, one-by-one, inept school students, whether they’re the self-stated part of the college body or, in a slight of confusion, sit in on classes and have row lockers like high schoolers, who stumble with defensives against a much darker scheme of soul extracting exploitation and world domination. Murray takes a full-on female primacy with strong heroine-performances by introducing Kearston Johansson and Natalie Jane to set aside their characters’ at-odds, find security in their flaws, and battle it out against an ancient evil. The respective roles in the goody two-shoes Maryssa and wildly eye-cutting Brook’s backgrounds are kept in a palpable line by Johansson and Jane’s drive to roleplay one-upping the other despite a petite background for character support and they’re anchored by Sebastian Deery (“Bad Dose”). The UK-born Deery plays the pursued rake, Jake, in a triangular love interest with Johansson and Jane’s characters. While Deery seemingly attempts to rein back his English accent without much success through his satisfactory presence as a level-headed, good-lookin’ guy, Jake’s acutely transforms into a wily coquet by initially buttering up Maryssa with good intentions and verbally loathe Brook for her derogatory attitude toward Maryssa only to then switch quickly to desiring a distraught Brook when Maryssa winds up in a mental institute for the criminally insane after the gruesome death of one of their friends. The off-putting dynamic pens a promiscuous casualness about these group of friends. Dominique Smith, Sean Rey, Chris Kapeleris, Shahrad Fredotti, Richard Collier, and Gavin Downes as the profaner Belial.
“Beyond Hell” conjures a sassy-mouth, wise-cracking demon, Belial, adorned in a black and white molten-rock shape skin with curved horns and rows of beaded sharp teeth, but the makeup effects, though strong in prosthetic effort, appear extremely rubbery to the point that even Belial’s teeth bend and flap when Gavin Downes tosses out sarcastic quips when ripping the souls from his victims. This awkward stance of where our eyes and brains struggle to compute what make sense from the worst-of-the-worst of hell bound fiends is where “Beyond Hell” becomes forehead-rubbing frustrating because of how much time and application goes into the overall look of the creature that, in the end, just dips into disbelief. The gory, but crude practical effects trend into the visual effects territory, going beyond the gates of hell to where Belial himself would be frightened by the sheer shock of shoddiness. In one frantic scene where Brook attempts to escape Belial’s brimstone breath, decrepit arms breach a stairwell wall to grab her, but the arms, which are all of the same cut and move in the same motion, float like ghosts without ever puncturing through the drywall, or even breaking through that plane of narrative reality for that matter, that’s reminiscent of the horrendous flock of CGI birds, hovering autonomously as survivors try to whack at them in an awful reaction in James Nguyen’s “Birdemic: Shock and Terror.” Now, I’m not saying that “Beyond Hell” is as rough as intangible birdies behaving badly as Murray avails in manufacturing a stable low-spirited atmosphere of plague youth in between the real world and the underworld with their innocent lives hanging in the balance in a sordid enterprise off ill-will.
More laic than spiritual, “Beyond Hell” scratches the surface of narrative depth in a modest clash of “Hellraiser” meets “A Nightmare on Elm Street” from the celluloid plunging distributor, Indican Pictures. The 89 minute supernatural thriller has entered the digital platform realm, at least in the U.S., this December. “Beyond Hell” is Rhys Jones’ first director of photography venture filmed in 5K Raw on a RED Dragon that’s uninhibited in the illuminating details. While the shots are mostly natural, clearly capturing the pimples on the young actress’ foreheads, Belial is always casted in a semi-harsh blue tint to hide any part of the latex inflections and imperfections that might expose Downes even more as a man in a monochromic rubber suit. Dan Eisen and Norman Orenstein (“Diary of the Dead”) team-up to compose a single note and pennywise synth blended score that plays into a cleaved pop-glazing and survival horror video game and, can at times, be on the precipice of one of John Carpenter’s Lost Themes without evoking a soul-binding tension. Though the depth isn’t spectacularly precise and the dialogue disperses with echo at times, the range of audible effects is vast in echoing the unsettling cacophonies of a shrilling Hell, making the feature’s soundtrack and score a highlight in the rest of the mediocre quality. I applaud “Beyond Hell’s” ambitious, no holds barred concept, but the indie picture malnourishes a healthy dose of unconfined horror with bastardized acting and a haphazard flank of effects that make this Alan Murray film so bad it’s good to the very cringed tone ending.