Directed by Gregg Hale, Liam O’Donnell, Eduardo Sánchez, and Timo Tjahjanto.
Starring Deanna Russo, Ptolemy Slocum, Neil Hopkins, Salvita Decorte, Gretchen Lodge, Keith Hudson, Natasha Gott, Danielle Lewis, and Paul McCarthy-Boyington.
This genre-bending anthology takes place during a series of world-wide blackouts, after which millions of mysterious cosmic anomalies appear everywhere across the planet. While many flee from the objects, the real terror sets in as people are drawn toward – and into – them.
If there’s something I devour more frequently than fast-food quesadillas after a night of drinking, it’s horror anthologies. Love ‘em, live by ‘em, and hold ‘em as one of my favorite subgenres. Even better is when thematic wraparounds bind segments together, much like in the new-to-release Portals. Mysterious rectangles materialize after global blackouts, then pedestrians go missing. Filmmakers Gregg Hale, Liam O’Donnell, Eduardo Sánchez, and Timo Tjahjanto craft individual chapters each depicting one single story of those in contact with the strange objects – all punctuated by sci-fi anomalies.
In comparison to other recent anthology attempts, watchability lands somewhere between A Field Guide To Evil (lower standards) and Southbound (very much enjoyed). Portals ensures connective tissue unites worldwide events within each localized story, but minimally loses the inherent variety of anthology freedoms in doing so. Conceptualization is steadily in place and we’re showcased the possible branching off further sequels could extend – but Portals feels more like a sell for future entries than strong cinematic foundation. Approvable framework, flickers of tension and anarchy, but a bit “simple” in terms of pushing sci-fi boundaries into uncharted territories.
Liam O’Donnell (Beyond Skyline) shows us “The Other Side” as a family crashes into one of the manifested pillars on the way to “Nana’s.” Adam (Neil Hopkins) awakens in a hospital bed having been informed he’s a lucky few to enter *and* exit one of the doorways, plus he’s in possession of a new blackened eye. O’Donnell’s segment guides us into a mirror realm where Adam must choose between the new voice in his head (and peeper) or being with his loved ones again, in what’s my favorite segment. It allows the invaders agency and motive, while presenting Adam with a condemning choice. Bigger, more exploratory than accompanying reports.
Timo Tjahjanto (The Night Comes For Us) is responsible for “Sarah,” which traps two sisters within a concrete parking garage. As Sarah (Salvita Decorte) attempts to escape alongside her pregnant sibling, all other occupants are drawn to the black box now present. It’s a fight outward as brainwashed others try to force Sarah through the pulsating gate, her own sister included. A struggle drenched in red alarm lighting and desperation, where we learn that the only way to break any intergalactic trance is through violence (cue Sarah beating sense into her sis). It’s not as action-complex as Tjahjanto’s previous works, and remains somewhat contained when representing the alternate realities these entrances open. A bit of the same message, just with minions this time.
Eduardo Sanchez and Gregg Hale (The Blair Witch Project) team for “Call Center,” about 911 dispatchers whose work is interrupted by one of the portals now central on their floor. Without concrete answers or working GPS capabilities, office attention turns to the mesmeric object that is apparently communicating with the team’s lone conspiracy theorist. Stan (Paul McCarthy-Boyington) whips out a gun and starts demanding his co-workers shuffle through the temporal passageway, and from here tensions heighten. Not very loftily, though. “Call Center” never dials into the panic relied upon, as its containment provides barely a rousing workplace standoff.
It’s funny because certain sequences remind of Southbound, specifically O’Donnell’s desert highway cinematography. Creator Chris White puts effort into continuity throughout Portals, but as noted previously, each filmmaker’s submission is a bit too familiar in succession. I love A Christmas Horror Story because narrative threads maintain course yet each bite-sized holiday fable carves its own unique path through bloodsoaked snow. With Portals, segments blend together in a way that leaves variety on a lesser scale than most anthologies. Shortened riffs off the same extraterrestrial ambiguity that are cleanly shot, seamlessly stitched together, but missing an electric bolt that otherwise would bring the Frankensteined project to life.
Portals cracks an anthology format worth notoriety, but its first handful of samples never takes full advantage of the subgenre format. I’m all here for an opening homage to Return of The Living Dead (even the introduction’s font looks the same), yet teases of cosmic horror leave dread to be imagined (minus one or two moments of gore). Inventive ideas, wavering execution, and filmmakers who can shoot their segments with equal cinematic proficiency but varying levels of audience investment. It’s certainly not a *bad* sci-fi anthology – just middle-of-the-rainbow-road thrills.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★
Matt spends his after-work hours posting nonsense on the internet instead of sleeping like a normal human. He seems like a pretty cool guy, but don’t feed him after midnight just to be safe (beers are allowed/encouraged). Follow him on Twitter/Instagram/Letterboxd (@DoNatoBomb).