Beyond the Gates (2016)
Directed by Jackson Stewart
Board games had long been the playtime domain of dining tables and living room floors, but when VHS won the format wars over Betamax, game-makers tried to port from cardboard to TV via tape. VCR board games were kind of like regular board games, but their boxes also contained poorly-acted, worse-written, semi-interactive, cheesy videos often featuring an instruction-spouting host. The result was a short-lived disaster, but a long-lasting memory in kids of the 1980s.
Beyond the Gates, a new movie with an old-fashioned feel, uses the little-known game as a jumping off point to a tale of supernatural horror. We first meet estranged brothers Gordon and John (Skipper and Williamson) as they’re clearing out their missing-and-declared-dead father’s (Henry LeBlanc) video store.
It was the place they grew up, and as they reminisce, they think back to those tacky old VHS games they used to play as kids. In the once-forbidden private office of their dad, Gordon and John find the rarest game of all: Beyond the Gates.
Was this the last game their father ever played? Could it hold the key to his disappearance? They take it home to give it a whirl. Bad idea.
Gordon’s girlfriend, Margot (Grant), joins in; and the trio soon learn that they must to win the game in order to release dear Dad’s soul from its prison beyond the gates. Their opponent is the game-master (Crampton), a black and white vision of beauty and iniquity. The supporting cast includes Jesse Merlin, who’s deliciously channeling the imaginary love child of Roddy McDowall and Vincent Price, and Matt Mercer, who is perfect as the hapless, soon-to-be axed cop of every Scream movie Wes Craven made.
Being a low-budget indie flick, one must forgive the uneven cinematography, sometimes too-loose editing, and otherworldly specters that look better in some scenes than others. What one must celebrate is the commitment of first-time feature director Jackson Stewart to making a movie for horror fans, using the best cast for the story, and coming up with a truly imaginative and intriguing plot.
Beyond the Gates isn’t a period piece, but it definitely has the feel of a straight-to-VHS video nasty juxtaposed with bigger-budget 80s genre classics like Fright Night and Jumanji. It’s fun and spooky, but at its heart it’s about a fractured family moving beyond the gates of the past and heading toward a brighter future.