Monday, 3 April 2017

Beyond The Gates

I recently discussed in my review for The Love Witch that we are all suffering from nostalgia, and this feeling has made its presence known in cinema – more and more filmmakers are creating stories that are as much about the era they are affectionately based in as they are about plot. Jackson Stewart’s Beyond The Gates is a prime example, offering us a love letter to trashy 80s horror but not much else.

Chase Williamson and Graham Skipper star as brothers John and Gordon, forced to reunite after their alcoholic father’s suspicious disappearance. The site of their unhappy reunion is their family’s video store where they quickly discover a tape stuck in their father’s private video player, part of a VHS board game called Beyond The Gates. The spooky video features the legendary Barbara Crampton as the game’s hostess, who begins revealing things about the brothers that nobody could know. Eventually, the game comes to life and sucks the brothers into its dark world. Yeah, it’s basically a campy 80s Jumanji.

There are moments of wonder here – particularly the many well-observed pastiches of 80s horror genre conventions, handled perfectly by the clearly adept director. But there are too many shortcomings to make the film truly memorable. Firstly, the independent nature of the film means that, of course, the budget is next to nothing. For a film that requires a whole new world is created within an evil board game, it needs to look like it can afford it – and it can’t. The film does feel cheap, and this is often jarring. The acting leaves a fair bit to be desired too, again a shortcoming of a low budget. Of course, these fresh-faced directors are never going to be handed millions of dollars to play with and they have to start off cheap, so maybe director Jackson Stewart set his sights a bit too high for this debut feature. Look at Ben Wheatley – he shot his first film in a house with a small cast, and it was brilliant. He’s worked up to his big-budget affairs like High-Rise, Free Fire and the highly anticipated Freakshift. You can’t make films like these on your first try!

Still, there are moments of ambition and passion in the film and, as my fellow CeXy writer Lewis would tell me, you can’t fault that. It is an affectionate 80s homage and anyone with an interest in that era of cinema will find enough to like here to make the film’s flaws bearable. Beyond The Gates lifts a hell of a lot from Jumanji and doesn’t really do anything interesting beyond its cheesy 80s vibes, but it tries its best with the teensy budget and everyone’s effort is noticeable. I’m sure when Jackson Stewart gets his hands on a bigger budget he’ll be one to watch, but for the time being there isn’t a great deal to recommend.

Also, as a side note, look at the UK DVD cover. Stranger Things much? You know, that really grinds my gears. That font is near-identical. I get it, it’s arguably good marketing – but marketing without morals. I’m sure at least one person out there has bought this with the assumption it is part of the Stranger Things universe. What a heartless way to market. We all know what Bill Hicks thinks of you people…

I digress. Beyond The Gates isn’t particularly good, but it’s got a lot of passion and heart even below the flaws – so I’d feel bad ripping it apart. If you’re a fan of the genre or the era it is a tribute to, give it a look. There are worse ways to spend 90 minutes. Beyond The Gates earns a down-the-middle rating.


Sam Love

Beyond The Gates at CeX

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