Beyond the Gates (2016)
★★ / ★★★★
Jackson Stewart’s horror picture “Beyond the Gates” is not particularly well-acted nor is it ever scary, the third act is a sloppy mess, and it is clearly made under a limited budget, but it offers a good time because it is so charming in its simplicity. It is an underdog that you wish so badly to succeed. Perhaps most important: you can tell it is made with love—a quality missing from so many movies today across all genres.
Estranged brothers Gordon (Graham Hardesty) and John (Chase Williamson) are forced to pack up and close down their father’s video store seven months after Bob’s disappearance (Henry LeBlanc). While looking inside their missing father’s office, they come across a VHS tape with an accompanying board game. When the tape is played, a blonde woman with big eyes appears (Barbara Crampton), seemingly able to see through the screen and guide the players. Back at the house, the woman claims that if John, Gordon, and Margot (Brea Grant), Gordon’s girlfriend who is also visiting town, were able to successfully obtain four keys, Bob would be freed. Naturally, obtaining each key requires a sacrifice.
I enjoyed the way it takes the time to introduce the characters and show us where they are in their lives. For instance, instead of merely telling us that Gordon and John are opposites, it shows us how they are different, from the clothes they wear, how they attempt to solve problems, and the manner in which they interact with others. Although the character building during the first half is likely to displease some viewers because the pacing is slow and the expected jolts or terror are nowhere to be found, it is refreshing that the material strives for us to get to know its characters before pushing them to confront the supernatural.
The story takes place mostly inside Gordon and John’s childhood home. Too many horror movies these days, mainstream or independent, tend to use a place merely as a space where things happen. Here, the house has a personality. I appreciated how lived-in it looked. I felt as though I could go into a small town, pick a house to enter, and the inside would look like the interiors of the house we see here. In this particularly story, it is necessary that we get a complete feel of the house not simply because the mysterious keys are found in it but also since the dynamics between two brothers must undergo a change. They may be different, but what they have in common is they both grew up in this house. Thus, we must get a feeling of its history if we were to believe the character arcs.
It is forceful in delivering gore which I found amusing more than frustrating. Since the circumstances surrounding the strange board game is so interesting, we are likely to find ourselves attempting to figure out the rules (since the characters didn’t even bother to read the rules of the game before rolling the dice) instead of focusing on the level of gore, whether the violence is executed just right, the color and consistency of the blood. In hindsight, it is littered with imperfections but I didn’t mind so much while in the moment.
There is an audience for a movie like this. And I think some days I fall into that niche. But what I enjoyed most about “Beyond the Gates,” based on the screenplay by Stephen Scarlata and Jackson Stewart, is that it is not composed merely of cheap jump scares and accompanying sudden loud music. It is not afraid to be silent, to linger, to make us think of possibilities. With these in mind, I’m happy to give it a marginal recommendation.