BEYOND THE GATES (2016)
Directed by Jackson Stewart
Gordon returns to his hometown to help younger brother John out with the clearance of their father’s old video rental shop. Missing for 7 months and presumed to be dead, their father’s disappearance has left a sour taste in their mouths. Whilst cleaning out their father’s office at the store, they discover an old board game called Beyond The Gates with an accompanying VHS tape in the VCR player, presumably the last tape played by their father. Taking the videotape and game home to their father’s house, John, Gordon and his girlfriend Margot decide to play the game. Guided through the gameplay by a mysterious blonde, the trio quickly realise this a game like no-other with life or death consequences for those who play.
BEYOND THE GATES is an homage to the 80’s in both style and feel whilst taking the idea of 90’s family favourite Jumanji and presenting it to a more mature audience. Much like the boardgame in that particular movie, Beyond The Gates boardgame isn’t one to simply pick up and put away. Once you start playing, you have to play to the end even if it means risking your own life or having to take that of another. With horror icon Barbara Crampton as the VHS hostess of the game seemingly responding realtime to the players’ actions, the trio are tasked into finding four keys to go beyond the gates to where their father lies and to return back to their own world. Simple, eh? Not when getting the keys involves blowing people’s heads off and ripping out intestines!
Whilst the film sounds pretty decent on paper as an idea, it’s unfortunately not executed as well as could be. Too much time is focused on the dull-as-dishwater characters. Graham Skipper plays the nerdy older brother Gordon who resents having to return to the town he fought so hard to leave. He seems quite sorted in his life with girlfriend Margot but there are hints of a troubled past involving alcohol dependency. His brother John, played by John Dies at the End star Chase Williamson, is a more rugged, rough-around-the-edges guy who’s homeless, without a job and hangs around with loyal unsociables like Hank. A great deal of screentime is dedicated to their troubled relationship and even when the game is started, they decide to discuss more of their personal lives than get on with the task at hand. When they do decide to continue with the game and chase the four keys, the events which unfold feel rushed. Lke when solving a puzzle, you want to see the heroes struggle and be put under pressure to reach their goal but the solution is often right in front of the characters and over with before the viewer can really get into it. The filmmakers have tried to improve this by having certain characters brutally killed as a result of the game but this goresplosion is nothing more than a visual fancy that wears off after 5 seconds.
For a nostalgic horror movie, BEYOND THE GATES had all the potential. It had the music, the colours and the brilliant inclusion of Barbara Crampton who’s probably the best thing about this movie. The biggest draw of the film, before watching it, is the boardgame and unfortunately this aspect, this driving force of the plot, seems underused and rushed through. The tasks the players had to complete should have taken up much of the running time and the filmmakers could have had so much fun punishing their characters like some dungeon RPG. Instead, the film ends up a slow, plodding snoozefest instead of an exciting, fear-inducing bloodbath of wit and valor.
Whilst I wish I could recommend this, film fans would find more excitement with Jumanji and its threatening antagonist hunter Van Pelt.