JWR Articles: Film/DVD - Hell's Gate (Director/Writer: John Cecil) - September 17, 2008

Hell's Gate

2.5 2.5
84 min.

In search of the perfect medium

Director/writer John Cecil has made a noble attempt at translating his stage play of the same name to the big screen, but like others before him (cross-references below) the transition from a fixed space to wide-open possibilities can’t fully decide how to re-craft the story in a truly cinematic way.

On the surface, it’s all about kidnapping. Heiress and liberal/cocaine devotee Kim Sutherland (Chelsea Miller, looking far too good after being tied to a chair for nearly a week) is easily spirited away from a VIP room in an upscale New York City club by two former prison mates (Brian Faherty plays Kevin Kinney—convicted of a brutal revenge assault on his ex-girlfriend’s dump-you-after-you’re pregnant beau, he turns himself in and pays the price for well-meaning gallantry; Jeremy Cohen portrays sleaze-bag/cokehead Ben Deardon unevenly but his eyes speak incredibly well in the closing scenes of mayhem and genuine surprise). All of the textbook rules are broken: the perpetrators use their real names, let their faces be seen in broad daylight (during the abduction, the darkness of the room and various stimulants would make positive identification later difficult at best) and important elements of the “plan” are revealed to the helpless captive (meals and toilet breaks are left to the imagination).

The mastermind comes in the form of Mr. Nobody. Teddy Alexandro-Evans sports the best goatee of the bunch (clean shaven is not permitted in this desperate gang) and is efficiency itself in the details (here, the narrative capability of film is expertly demonstrated as we see his plan unfold even as it’s explained to his comrades in crime).

But once in the abandoned warehouse that, incredulously, has the electricity still connected (“an error of zoning” more confuses than explains away a weak plot point) and is otherwise bereft of much set dressing save and except for a silent “Banana Republic” mannequin (metaphors everywhere …). This leaves Kim literally in centre stage, staring down at the wooden floor planks that speak more to the theatre than forced confinement.

Despite vowing to “watch her in shifts of two” the money bait is frequently guarded by only one of the captors, allowing more back-story to emerge from all concerned (we learn of child rape, a boyfriend in high places and endure foul-mouthed abuse from both the imprisoned and the cash-seeking criminals). However, there is far too much tell rather than show, leaving the viewer feeling almost lectured into character development—empathy for anyone is in short supply.

This is a great pity as Cecil has some important issues about how women are exploited and used in all manner of ways to discuss. That frustration is never more apparent than in the masterfully constructed killer ending, which, if arrived through a much more visually oriented, circuitous route (having Mr. Nobody and the evil Ben suddenly decide to do lunch suits the resultant dialogue and plot set-ups but stomps all over reality) would have turned this trip to hell into a magnificent look at the underbelly of life. JWR

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