In Hellmouth, Stephen McHattie (Pontypool, A History of Violence) plays Charlie Baker: a tired man. Tired of his job, tired of his failing health, tired of his life, and tired of being around dead people. Baker’s only salvation is the knowledge that he’ll be retiring soon to move to Florida where he can miserably while away the last two years of his existence.
As a groundskeeper of a cemetery, Baker spends his days isolated and afraid. He’s continually terrorized by a group of taunting kids who deface and throw rocks at his home. Ah, but retirement is in a week, and Florida beckons. Unfortunately, his company has other plans for poor Charlie Baker.
His boss informs him that a groundskeeper at another cemetery has gone AWOL and Baker has to take his post. Of course, Baker isn’t hearing any of this. But he really doesn’t have much of a choice when bossman threatens to fire Baker on the spot, thus nullifying his pension, unless he capitulates.
During his last night at his old cemetery, Baker is plagued by nightmarish visions. The next morning, he loads up his old rustbucket and heads to Forks of Heaven cemetery. En route, he’s nearly run over by a train and finds his path blocked by a black stallion. He also spots an icy blonde walking along the road and gives her a ride. As Baker nears Forks of Heaven, his eyesight suddenly improves and his “brain” condition appears to vanish.
The blonde, Fay, and Charlie make love and fall in love, but when he awakes the next morning she is gone. He looks out the window and sees blazing infernos and a massive man-eating demon. Apparently, the cemetery sits at the mouth of Hell, and Charlie must descend into the underworld and fight all manner of hellish things to bring back his beloved.
Hellmouth is almost entirely CGI and plays like a horror version of Frank Miller’s Sin City. The visuals range from downright spectacular – the landscapes – to sort of cheap and unfinished, as in the case of the many demons that Charlie encounters. Apart from the visuals, the story is a bit muddled and confusing at times. There are a couple of needless subplots that weigh the narrative down, although a sheriff regaling Charlie with tales of the groundskeepers that preceded him amuses and provides for some neat little cameos.
Stephen McHattie is simply sensational as the weary protagonist. You can literally see every year of pain, fear and loneliness etched into his weathered face. He’s utterly believable in a world that could only be described as magical realism, and his portrayal is all the more impressive considering it was performed almost entirely in front of a green screen.
Charlie’s quest to rescue Fay does play a little like Frodo and Sam making their way into Mordor towards the pits Mount Doom, but it’s largely metaphorical. The ending is quite profound and affecting, as Charlie literally journeys to Hell and back to come out a deeply changed man. As such, the ultimate destination of Hellmouth is quite spectacular, but the journey is rough and uneven and the map sometimes hard to follow.
**1/2 (out of 5)