Brothers Gordon and John’s father has gone missing and is presumed dead. His sons have the unenviable task of going through his possessions, which includes his old-school video store, one where he even refused to carry D.V.D.s. Yes, Beyond the Gates isn’t just a nostalgia-fest, it’s a V.H.S. nostalgia-fest.
The brothers soon find a board game with a bundled video-tape, and when they, alongside Gordon’s girlfriend, Margot, pop it in the player, things start going weird. The game-mistress is aware of who is playing the game and tells them their ultimate goal is to free their father’s soul or die trying. To reach the soul, they’ll need to travel through the gates of hell themselves.
Beyond the Gates is a bit of a mess story-wise, but its creepiness hits home effectively. The filming is pristine, shuffling from realistic, earthy tones to a restrained use of saturated blues and purples. It’s the look of what nightmares are made of. Wojciech Golczewski has put together a score reminiscent of Fabio Frizzi’s work in Lucio Fulci’s The Beyond (this movie’s principal inspiration), which bolsters an underlying feeling of dread. When it starts playing, you know something is about to happen – not a quick, sharp shock, but rather a creeping sensation.
Those are all tentpoles of Fulci’s work, and Beyond the Gates does serve well as an all-out homage to the maestro’s films. The problem is, if you’re going full Fulci, you will also inevitably have unintended oddities in your movie.
Take the character of Gordon. It is stated early on – and many times after – that he has alcohol dependency issues. But so what? The characterization has no implications on the story, so why spend time on it? It is a symptom of a more significant problem: not a whole lot happens in the initial forty-five minutes. The group watches the V.H.S., a dollop of creepiness occurs, and the brothers go back to cleaning out their dad’s video store. Rinse and repeat. I assume the intention is to show how the brothers have grown apart, but it is never played out in any way I felt emotionally connected to.
Other side-stories – like where the game was purchased – have seemingly no end-game either. Out of the eighty-four-minute runtime, only about twenty have much meat to them.
Which is too bad, because the good parts really are good. Barbara Crampton gives an eerie performance as the game-mistress, leading a cast of younger semi-unknowns that hold their own. Technically and performance-wise, Beyond the Gates is more than a solid movie. It’s the implementation of what probably sounded like good character developments that fall flat one too many times.
By all means, do give Beyond the Gates a watch if you have Hulu. It’s worth sitting through the short runtime for the good parts. Just don’t expect to be constantly entertained or enthralled.