Beyond the Gates, 2016
Directed by Jackson Stewart
Starring Brea Grant, Chase Williamson, Graham Skipper, Jesse Merlin and Barbara Crampton
Two estranged brothers reunite at their missing father’s video store to liquidate the property and sell off his assets. As they dig through the store, they find a VCR board game dubbed ‘Beyond The Gates’ that holds a connection to their father’s disappearance and deadly consequences for anyone who plays it.
You all remember Nightmare right? The VHS board game with the creepy dude narrating? Alright how about Star Wars: The Interactive Board Game? Wayne’s World? Atmosfear? Well, okay then, imagine Jumanji mixed with Poltergiest with a splash of Ringu and you’ve got Jackson Stewart’s Beyond the Gates, a tribute to the nostalgic love of VHS culture with a surprisingly nice horror twist.
With their father taking off and leaving his video store in need of clearing out, estranged brothers Gordon and John return to their hometown to box things up. When they break into his office however, they discover a bizarre VHS game called Beyond the Gates which is presented by a woman who is seemingly watching them. As they play the game, they suddenly realise that their Dad might not be missing at all, and playing the game is the only way to find him.
It’s funny that Beyond the Gates is getting its European premiere at FrightFest in the same month that Stranger Things has become everyone’s new favourite show, as the two share a lot of similar values. They’re both obsessed with the 1980s and all the beautiful nostalgia that comes with them. For Stranger Things its Dungeons and Dragons, and for Beyond the Gates its VHS. The shots of our characters walking into their father’s VHS store is dripping in love for the format, longing for the days when we would spend hours walking around these palaces of entertainment looking for that right video to take home for the weekend. And, like Stranger Things, it cleverly weaves this nostalgia to further its plot and not hinder its story like so many other nostalgia love pieces tend to do.
This is helped by three very strong central performances from Brea Grant, Chase Williamson and Graham Skipper who really gel with the characters they’re playing. Williamson is the care-free spirit who is just drifting from couch to couch while Skipper is the straight-laced sensible one who wants to move on with his life. Grant is given the least to do of the three, but her dynamic and chemistry with Skipper makes her character very likeable. Perhaps the star of the show is horror icon Barbara Crampton, who plays the narrator of the board game, but that’s only because its Barbara Crampton and she’s always great.
Where Beyond the Gates falters slightly is that it never taking advantage of its premise. It uses the VHS board game to set up its plot, but that’s sort of where it ends. Beyond the Gates doesn’t embrace the idea of a haunted VHS board game to its full potential and, in the end, it could have been a haunted teapot and it would have been the same movie. Which is a real shame as it has so much promise. By the time the movie’s climax is in place, it becomes a bog standard supernatural movie. What’s impressive though is Stewart’s direction, which is fantastic for a feature debut. His level of detail on the gory scenes and his excellent use of practical effects puts him very high on the ‘must watch list’. Beyond the Gates clearly doesn’t have a huge budget, but Stewart gets so much out of what little they have.
With a slightly better story that contained more scares, tension and a better use of the gimmick, Beyond the Gates could have been a real ‘must-see’ from this year’s FrightFest. But as it stands it’s just okay. Very enjoyable with some good performances and great supernatural gore, but its missing a certain spark. You should certainly seek it out for all its beautiful nostalgia at the start of the movie, but don’t expect to be kind and rewind to watch again.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★
Luke Owen is the Deputy Editor of Flickering Myth and the co-host of The Flickering Myth Podcast and Scooperhero News. You can follow him on Twitter @ThisisLukeOwen and read his weekly feature The Week in Star Wars.