Contemplating the mysteries of life after death evokes a profound curiosity within me, stirring questions that linger on the boundaries of human understanding. Do we swiftly journey to realms of heaven or hell, as some believe, our fate determined by the deeds of our days alive? Do we linger in a transitional state, tethered to the earthly realm for a span of time, lingering between worlds? And if we stay here for a period of time, what sparks the moment of going across the rainbow bridge?

Can we remain as ghosts if we choose, or is there a great unknown force keeping our souls wandering? Is there a possibility of returning to the vessels of our former selves, or does death mark the ultimate departure from this existence? And what lies beyond the enigmatic threshold of the “white light?” These ponderings, shrouded in mystery and wonder, compel me to explore the realms beyond the veil, seeking glimpses of understanding into the vast expanse of the unknowable.

Yes, these are the thoughts I have while sitting at the bar of my local tavern, chugging down a bottle of Angry Orchard and munching on fried pickles. But these thoughts did not just manifest out of the blue. On the contrary, the film Pandemonium, from writer-director Quarxx, is the catalyst for these unanswerable questions.

Pandemonium unfolds with Nathan (Hugo Dillon) and Daniel (Arben Bajraktaraj) standing on a desolate road following what appears to be a vehicle accident. While Nathan remains oblivious to any tragedy, Daniel is convinced they’ve met their demise. As the surreal scene unfolds, two doors materialize — one leading to heaven, the other to hell. Nathan, reluctantly, ventures into the latter. Inside, he’s met with a harrowing landscape strewn with lifeless bodies, each offering glimpses into their tragic tales upon his touch.

From the chilling account of a young girl named Jeanne (Manon Maindivide), who committed unspeakable acts she blamed on her imaginary monster, Tony (Carl Laforêt), to the heart-wrenching neglect of Julia (Ophélia Kolb) toward her abused daughter, Nathan is confronted with the consequences of human frailty. However, his encounter with Norghul (Jean Rouceau), a demon sent to enact his punishment, unveils the grim reality of his own fate in this haunting journey below.

The storytelling approach in Pandemonium pleasantly caught me off guard. Anthologies rank among my preferred narrative styles, yet Pandemonium wasn’t a film I anticipated within that genre. Nonetheless, writer-director Quarxx adeptly crafted a captivating horror film, seamlessly weaving multiple narratives into a unified whole, much to the satisfaction of this viewer.

While Hugo Dillon’s performance is commendable, it’s somewhat overshadowed by the film’s expansive scope. In a narrative that shifts between various storylines, Nathan’s journey becomes somewhat lost amidst the shuffle. At times, the story diverges too far from Nathan’s arc, detracting from its central focus on his sins and their consequences. However, amidst the ensemble cast, 9-year-old Manon delivers a standout performance that leaves a haunting impact. Her portrayal of a psychotic young girl balances childlike innocence with a chilling and unsettling malevolence, elevating the emotional depth of the film.

Hell is depicted as the destination for nearly all souls to atone for their sins. According to Norghul, residents endure centuries of suffering, with only a few finding redemption and escaping its clutches. The portrayal reveals hell as a multi-tiered realm (much like mentioned in the epic poem, Dante’s Inferno): Initially resembling a dusty basement where individuals seem trapped in a cycle of reliving their traumas. As Nathan delves deeper, he encounters a darker, more ominous environment reminiscent of a dungeon, complete with a terrifying creature. Contrary to common beliefs of eternal flames and brimstone, Quarxx’s interpretation suggests that such punishments are reserved for the most egregious offenders. This depiction offers a chilling insight into the potential horrors awaiting in the afterlife.

The impressive special effects bringing to life the monstrous beings in Pandemonium are credited to David Scherer. Scherer’s designs imbue each creature with distinct personalities, while maintaining some simplicity in concept. The result is a striking blend of beauty and grotesqueness, evoking a sense of displacement for these entities, especially Tony, who is both hideous and lovable. Yet, amidst their eerie appearances, many exude a certain contentment with their roles, adding depth to their characters within the unsettling world of the film.

Pandemonium earns four out of five stars from this reviewer for its startling portrayal of the afterlife by Quarxx. While Nathan’s storyline seems central, it’s overshadowed by Manon Maindivide’s powerful performance. Visually captivating, the film presents bleak-and-despair-filled environments inhabited by creatures both repulsive and mesmerizing.

Pandemonium offers insights into existential questions raised earlier in this review, prompting a reevaluation of life choices to avoid such a fate if this vision proves even remotely accurate.