Make no mistake about it, the eighties are cool again. In particular, eighties nostalgia horror which appears to be the next big thing. Whether that be Adam Wingard’s lusciously entertaining The Guest, Netflix’s behemoth Stranger Things or David Robert Mitchell’s terrifying It Follows, it clearly has audiences salivating and reminiscing. The next in this fad is Jackson Stewart’s debut feature film Beyond the Gates, a knowingly hammy b-movie about VCR board games that considerably misses the point, which arrives on DVD today.
The concept is a fun one. Seven months after their father’s disappearance, estranged brothers Gordon (Graham Skipper) and John Hardesty (Chase Williams) reunite to liquidate their Dad’s anaemic video store. Soon after, they unearth an old VHS board game that acts as an inter-dimensional hub to a nightmare world where their Father’s soul is trapped and can only be saved by playing the game…
Unfortunately, the concept is where the fun ends. Although a Jumanji meets Ouiji combo sounds like a blast, it’s not nearly developed enough, scary enough or entertaining enough to be worthy of your time. The key flaw here is that it never actually establishes any rules. A huge fault for a horror film, let alone a film centering on a boardgame. Think about Jumanji or even Gremlins. Both films are fantastically dark and witty and easy to follow because they set up rules straight away that allow them to spin a fantastic yarn. That can’t work with Beyond the Gates because there is nothing of the kind, which removes any kind of a boisterous, exhilarating and immersive narrative.Subsequently, Beyond the Gates appears to be a cluster of convoluted plot-points thinly drawn together through underdeveloped characters. The culture clash of the ‘uptight’ brother and the ‘slacker’ brother are cliché and exhausted and the film seems to realise this towards the end of the film, injecting them with some emotional gravitas which is profoundly jarring.
There is a distinct lack of adventure and conundrum solving too. Everything seems to work itself out which somewhat takes the fun out of the proceedings. For a film that appears to be a love-letter to the days of VCRs, rentals and making your own fun, there doesn’t seem to be any tenderness and appreciation in the execution.
There are no eerie or spooky scares. In fact, it’s not even inherently creepy or tense. For a film with a running time of eighty-four minutes, it’s criminal that it never really seems to hit its stride. The pacing is slow, building up the tension to nothing. Moreover, the finale peters out with a whimper rather than a bang. Beyond the Gates is a disappointing game and, crucially, a lacklustre film. With horror films like It Follows and The Babadook around, Beyond the Gates doesn’t quite cut it. The only fun you’ll find in this is the delightful horror icon Barbara Crampton (of Re-Animator fame) hamming it up to eleven. Game over.
Precision Pictures presents Beyond the Gates on Digital from 13th February & DVD 20th February, 2017