Graham Skipper as Gordon
Chase Williamson as John
Barbara Crampton as Margot
Who Picked the Movie? Tex
The Canuck and I kicked off a weekend of indie/genre catch up with the Jackson Stewart horror film Beyond the Gates. An R-rated, Jumanji-esque horror comedy starring a potentially cursed 80’s VHS based board game? Count me in. From the opening shot of a VHS tape winding its way through a VCR in detailed close up, to the cheesy neon opening credits, I was onboard. Stewart really nails the tone of the movie he was attempting to make in these opening sequences; sadly it doesn’t take too long before Beyond the Gates starts tearing apart at the seams like an old game board that’s seen better days.
First, let’s set the record straight – calling this Jumanji-esque is like calling the Zach Gallifinackis flop ,Masterminds, Heat-esque. The theme of a board game come to life is about the only thing these two movies have in common. And yeah, during the opening scene and credits I did blurt out, “Wow, this is a real movie!” because the aesthetic and tone were bang on. I’m actually convinced they shot in sequence because by the final scenes you could tell the money was long spent. Seriously, there are scenes during the climax performed on sets comprised of nothing but smoke and color gels. Amateur hour.
I think for me the first crack in the 80’s gauze filtered facade was the acting. Instead of campy, broad (and potentially fun) performances we get overly serious, amateurish stabs at realism. With one exception, that I’ll let Craig expand on, Stewart just didn’t pull entertaining work from his clearly game actors (pun only partially intended).
The acting didn’t bother me as much as it bothered you. I thought everyone did a good job holding it together. In fact, for a game about a haunted Nightmare rip-off, I got all of my enjoyment from learning about these brothers. They both have troubled pasts and rocky relationships that the disappearance of their father is bringing out of them. Barbara Campton lends her floating head to the game master via VHS with a dire, lingering stare from the old television. I know that you’re trying to goad me into ripping the poor shopkeeper, Elric, played by newcomer Jesse Merlin, to shreds. His performance was both bizarre and comical, but the two leads just played it straight instead of being like, “Dude, wtf,” and playing up the camp. This was the director’s choice, not Merlin’s.
Actually you completely misunderstood what I was thinking; I thought Merlin gave the only entertaining performance in the movie. Even though Elric seems to exist in a completely different reality from the rest of film, watching him devour chunks of the scenery was definitely a highlight for me. I especially loved his wardrobe which was a cross between Dracula and the Tall Man from Phantasm.
I haven’t even gotten to the plot, mostly because it consisted of random scenes designed exclusively to keep the story from engaging with its central hook; actually playing the haunted board game. I don’t know if this was a budgetary issue or if Stewart just had no idea what to do with his premise, but it made for one of the more frustrating viewing experiences I’ve had in a while. I’m usually more supportive of these DIY indies, but by the time we get to the climax, filled with what I can only assume where premade IMovie special effects, I had a headache from rolling my eyes so much. I’m going to say that it’s not worth going Beyond the Gates. 2 out of 5 Fog Machines
What else can I really talk about? Possibly the seemingly in-camera dissolve effects? “Is there a dead body in this scene that we need to magically get rid of for no money? “I’ve got just the tool for that, it’s right here in the menu of my DV Cam!” Great starter film for this indie team to hit the festivals with, but I wouldn’t tell anyone to pay for it. Pass.