Movie Review: Beyond the Gates

imagesGrowing up, I always looked forward to Fridays, and it wasn’t just because it signaled the end of the school week and beginning of the weekend. No, when I was younger, Fridays meant a trip to one of my local video stores. It was a tradition: I was allowed to rent one movie and one video game, no more, no less.

That was my weekend; give or take some homework, of course. Therefore, much to my Mother’s chagrin or a testament to her patience, I would often take my time in selecting my weekend’s entertainment less I choose poorly.

Choosing a video game was often easy, as I would go for some of the latest releases, but when it came to movies more often then not I would walk past the new arrivals and head straight for the horror section. I was a horror movie fiend. I grew up on horror movies. I loved looking at the cover art, scanning the photos on the back, reading the synopsis and review quotes. That said, if I could sum up this movie in a few words as if it were a catchy review quote on the back cover, I would say it’s “Jumanji but directed by Lucio Fulci!”

Now, what do I mean by that, and what was the point of taking you down memory lane? Well, much like how I used to frequent arcades when I was younger, video stores have suffered the same fate: they’ve become obsolete and rare to find anymore. As society moves forward, from one technology to another, those that cannot adapt ultimately fall behind and apart. However, there will always be a small portion of society that does not move on, that always has one eye looking back, with a fondness and care which most others no longer do.

John (Chase Williamson) and Gordon (Graham Skipper) Hardesty, two estranged brothers, come together to take care of their father’s video rental store after his mysterious disappearance.

While “Beyond the Gates” takes place in the modern day, it has one foot in the past, acknowledging the power of nostalgia while also noting how dangerous it can be; sometimes it’s best to leave things well enough alone. The movie follows two estranged brothers who, after the mysterious disappearance of their father, reluctantly come together to help close the family business: a video store. It is here that they stumble upon a true relic of the past: a VHS board game entitled “Beyond the Gates” and the harbinger of the horrors that awaits them.

To say this movie put a smile on my face is an understatement. As I said at great lengths before, I have a real fondness for video stores, and the scenes in which they walked around their old family establishment made me want to personally leap into the screen and check out the place myself. On top of that, even though “Beyond the Gates” is a fictional VHS board game, they do make references to real ones both on screen and in dialogue. I got a real kick out of seeing a copy of the VHS board game of Clue especially, because my family owned it at one point, and it brought back great memories.

The titular VHS board game which is far more than it seems… do you dare play?

However, perhaps the most important of the passing references to VHS board games that they make is to “Nightmare,” which no doubt an influence behind the making of this film. In that game, you are instructed by the “Gatekeeper,” a mysterious and slightly disfigured man in a hood, who often warns of throwing you in “the black hole.” In this film, and the VHS board game of the same name, “Beyond the Gates” is controlled by an equally mysterious yet beautiful woman who demands the two brothers collect “keys” to “open the gates” so that they can save their father’s soul. You see, he played the game before they did, so now they have to play the game themselves to set him free.

This is where my earlier reference to Jumanji, and the works of Lucio Fulci, come into play. While I will not spoil the film any further beyond this point, I will say that the game begins to distort reality, unleashing numerous evil entities with gallons of blood and gore along the way. This is when the music really comes into play, and shines, by complementing the creepy atmosphere and gorgeous use of lighting. Composed by Wojciech Golczewski, and using a healthy dose of synthesizers, they masterfully crafted a chilling soundtrack which reminded me of many a horror film from days gone past while also giving it an almost otherworldly and timeless feeling; an identity of it’s own beyond its influences.

Barbara Crampton excels in her role as the mysterious host and evil force behind the game.

Which, to me, can be said of the film as a whole. While it does feel like a tribute, at times, it is not done so in an over the top way which so many films influenced by 80’s aesthetics can sometimes fall prey. The nostalgia is not simply played for laughs, but for overall different purposes as I alluded to before. This movie, to me, is about not letting the past define you and to overcome it’s influences by making a name for yourself through your own actions.

Therefore, while I tongue-in-cheekily refer to it as “Jumanji but directed by Lucio Fulci,” in the end it goes beyond it’s gatekeepers and emerges as it’s own film which should be celebrated and enjoyed. This is certainly due to to the efforts of it’s director, Jackson Stewart, who going forward will be one to look out for if this film is any indication. He certainly makes a name for himself with this one.

So, even if you no longer have a local video store, fear not: this film is currently streaming on Netflix! It’s also Friday so, in the spirit of my earlier story, why not watch it tonight or this weekend? Just remember to be kind, rewind, and have it back by Monday! That is, of course, if you can survive…