Director: Jackson Stewart
Writers: Stephen Scarlata, Jackson Stewart
Starring: Graham Skipper, Chase Williamson, Brea Grant, Sara Malakul Lane, Jesse Merlin, Barbara Crampton, Justin Welborn
With the resounding success of the TV show Stranger Things on Netflix, it seems to have become the fashionable thing to reference movies from the 1980s. Videotapes and video players are the props du jour in the current wave of horror nostalgia. Recent release Rings - sequel to The Ring, also (rather lamely) attempted to resuscitate interest in the gruesome potential the VCR, making it the obsolete technology most used as a pretext for a certain kind of tale. The latest example of this phenomenon is the Beyond the Gates.
The film opens with two estranged brothers, Gordon and John, (Graham Skipper and Chase Williamson) who are packing up the family video-rental store. They intend to liquidate the property and sell off the assets after the unsolved disappearance of their father (Henry LeBlanc) many months previously.
As they rummage through the store, they find the key to a locked office door and can’t resist having a snoop around. Once inside, the brothers find a VCR board game named 'Beyond The Gates' that might be a clue to the reason behind their father's disappearance, as it was the last tape left in his personal recorder.
Gordon’s girlfriend Margot (Brea Grant) arrives in town to meet his estranged brother John and to help to close the video store. Intrigued, Margo and the brothers then decide to play the video-game, and soon learn that the game must be played until the very end, whatever bloody events may ensue, otherwise they, and their father’s soul, will be lost forever.
The onscreen MC of the game is played by Barbara Crampton, (whose résumé goes back to the actual 1980s horror Re-Animator). Her role is to lure the brothers into playing, and thus to enter a hellish alternative reality in order to save their father’s trapped soul. Beyond the Gates then uses the premise of playing a mysterious video-game as the departure point for a tale of supernatural horror and brutal consequences.
Director Jackson Stewart takes quite some time in getting to the action, spending at least the first 30 minutes of the film dwelling on the past-history and tensions between the two brothers, their awkward attempts at reconnection, and Gordon’s relationship with Margot.
There is a frustrating ‘stop-and-start’ element to their playing of the video game which puts a damper on the proceedings. It also results in the pacing being erratic and everything taking a little too long in allowing the scary stuff and accompanying wackiness to get properly started.
A quick check reveals that Beyond the Gates is listed as a comedy/horror, which might explain the odd shifts in tone throughout. A distinct cheesiness soon infests the movie. It doesn’t go all out for the horror, although it offers some grotesque and gruesome sequences. The gore becomes cartoonish, and we are given some laughably over-the-top and stilted supporting performances - one particularly memorable turn from Jesse Merlin as the owner of an ‘occult’ shop.
The difficult relationship and journey back to affection and allegiance between the two brothers is played fairly seriously, and is well created by the dialogue between the two actors. Therefore, one saving grace of Beyond the Gates is the fact that we learn quite a lot about, and can engage with, the trio leading the film.
As far as emulating the feel of the vaguely tacky horror films of the eighties is concerned, the movie makes a pretty decent attempt. Its music, colours and slightly grainy look should please any fans of retro horror.
Beyond the Gates starts off with an interesting premise and pleasing performances but descends into a kind of camp 80s kitsch which may not appeal to everyone, unless they are a glutton for cheesy nostalgia.
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