Beyond the Gates (2016)Reviewed By Jay Seaver
Posted 01/13/17 16:59:22
SCREENED AT MONSTER FEST 2016: Movies like "Beyond the Gates" are what happens when the enthusiasm many fans have for horror movies run hard into how difficult making an actual quality picture can be. Filmmaker Jackson Stewart has a better idea of where to start than most people building high-concept, low-budget gorefests do, but the sheer number of details that require money, some particular type of talent, and time overwhelms him and his crew to the point where a good start becomes a disappointing finish.For instance, it’s a fine idea to play upon nostalgia that is both broadly understood and quirkily specific: Everybody of a certain age has fond memories of video rental shops, for instance, even if the one that brothers Gordon (Graham Skipper) and John (Chase Williamson) are packing up only stayed open nearly twenty-five years out of their father’s stubbornness. WIth him having vanished off the face of the Earth months ago, there’s nobody to keep it going. There’s a bit of truth in that idea - that this sort of place persists in a changing world on the back of dedicated eccentrics and will vanish once they do - that isn’t necessarily a main theme of the movie, but it’s a real thing that the audience will feel and empathize with. Fewer people particularly recall VHS board games, which involved snippets of video being used as part of play, but they wind up being just the right level of obscure, something all involved can recall vaguely, but which may require a bit of explanation, and also works as a thing that might have consumed the father, as strange hobbies do.
The main cast isn’t bad, either. Graham Skipper and Chase Williamson play the sort of separated siblings that many wouldn’t necessarily peg as related, not just in appearance but demeanor, with Skipper especially occasionally showing that awkward attitude where he wants to try to be closer but finds that the expectations of familial closeness leave him not quite sure what to do. It’s a nice contrast with Williamson’s John, whose relative comfort in his environment leaves him able to snap a bit more. Skipper also handles Gordon’s fear of his family’s self-destructive tendencies nicely, while, Brea Grant livens things up as the character’s girlfriend Margot. She often gets charged with pulling things forward with enthusiasm, and it’s a shame Steward and co-writer Stephen Scarlata don’t always have a great way to inject her into what is basically a brother movie. Barbara Crampton pops up as the “gamemaster” giving instruction on the tape, bringing a little unexpected tartness to various points.
Her being a face on a video quickly exposes a flaw in the movie, in that it quickly becomes clear that all the characters need to do is eject the tape and set it aside and things would be done. The moments when everything stops and the tape does just go on to the next cue are admittedly kind of creepy, but terribly momentum-killing. And while enough work has gone into the game that the designer is credited in the opening titles and one could probably actually play it if the filmmakers made some facsimiles, the playing never connects with a viewer the way that packing up the video store or having an awkward dinner does, it just pulls the audience from one bit to another without building up or digging in, often with other arbitrary steps added in. There’s a pretty steep drop-off in the quality of the acting when you get beyond the main roles, and even the gore it leads to comes across as weirdly tangential rather than something the characters have to deal with.
And the gore isn’t even that great. It’s decent enough in the moments it comes, though not especially creative; it’s never going to make a viewer say “whoa, never seen that before”. It’s not bad work for being done on a budget that doesn’t seem to allow for much stretching, and that leads to the film hitting a hard wall later on, when the “gates” wind up being a fence that appears in the basement, and there’s not much “beyond” to see. It feels like things should get Phantasm-style weird, but there’s so few resources to make the horrors and alternate dimensions manifest that things might not even have happened.Sometimes, it’s almost more disappointing when a movie does the basics right - the set-up for "Beyond the Gates" works, it’s got a decent cast, and the synth soundtrack by Wojciech Golczewski works as a simple but effective throwback to low-budget movies made back when VHS games were a thing. Stewart and company just never get anywhere with it, unfortunately, and it’s frustrating to watch.
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