Beyond The Gates (2016) Review

rsz_1rsz_btg1Beyond the Gates (2016)

Director: Jackson Stewart

Starring: Graham Skipper, Chase Williamson, Brea Grant, Barbara Crampton

Out now on UK DVD

“Most of this junk just blends together”

Estranged brothers Gordon (Skipper) and John (Williamson) reunite when they have to close up their father’s video rental store because their father has been missing for seven months. In the back office they find a VCR board game called Beyond the Gates. Gordon takes it back to his father’s house where he’s staying and along with his fiancé Margot (Grant) and John, they decide to play the game. Surprise, surprise, Beyond the Gates has them trapped in a deadly game. The stakes, no less than their lives.

A lot of movies, and a lot of horror movies in particular, set out with the premise of “a deadly game that must be played to completion”. It’s not exactly an original concept, and it has been done better in other films. Beyond the Gates has a few charms but they can’t make up for slow pacing a mediocre script and modest acting. The film rides high on the recent wave of nostalgia that is sweeping films and horror right now. This is the third or fourth attempt at an 80s throwback I’ve seen and it’s not the strongest entry. Beyond leans a little heavily on viewers fondly remembering the days of video rental stores and knowing what a VCR game is. The film then has to explain what a VCR game is because even if you grew up with a VCR, the games where a niche market. Maybe not the strongest premise for a movie, when it has to be explained even to people as old as I am.

rsz_beyond_the_gates_1Premise aside Beyond the Gates is a mixed bag. The pace is slow. The board game is played out over days instead of forcing the characters to play through all at once. The game itself is overly easy, the clues dull. A lot of time is wasted in conversation as the characters flip back and forth, alternately trying to quit the game and progress. The film feels a lot longer than its lean run time of 84 minutes. The build up to actually playing the game is long as well. First we have to meet Gordon and John, then Gordon’s fiancé Margot, then John’s gross redneck friend Hank (Justin Welborn), THEN we have to establish the relationships and antagonisms between all of these characters. THEN they start the game. THEN people start dying.

What the film was actually good at, was not the horror aspects, or the VCR game shtick. It was actually an interesting film about estranged brothers with a troubled past and uneasy relationship mending fences. I actually felt the same way watching Beyond the Gates as I did watching The Innkeepers, which was a great romantic comedy and a terrible horror movie. Beyond the Gates was a good family drama about reconciliation and a pretty mediocre horror film.

But, the horror wasn’t all bad. There were a lot of practical effects used for gruesome death scenes that were pretty entertaining. However that’s about the best that can be said for the horror side of things. Unfortunately amusing death scenes don’t make up for the slow pace.

rsz_beyond_the_gates_2Kudos for: Gordon’s nerdy hipster vibe

Lesson learned: It takes more than a synth soundtrack to cash in on nostalgia.

6/10

Grimmfest Sunday 9th October 2016 – Reviewed

gf2016GRIMMFEST 2016- SUNDAY 9TH OCTOBER – Reviewed by James Pemberton

And so at last its the final day of Grimmfest and with another heavy line up of films packed in, 6 altogether and starting early today at 10:20am, so early that I overslept and by the time I got into the centre of Manchester the screening of DARLING had just started so rather than run across town to get in and miss possibly 10 minutes of the film feeling agitated, hungry and still barely awake I went to get some breakfast.

From the talk I heard DARLING went down well and its one I hope to catch soon. I did arrive in time, well really on time for the screening of…..

 

 

beyond-the-gates-poster-frightfestBEYOND THE GATES (Dir- Jackson Stewart, USA, 2016)

Two estranged brothers Gordon (Graham Skipper) and John (Chaise Williamson) reunite at their father’s video store to help clear out the place since its been liquidated and since dad has gone missing under mysterious circumstances. Whilst clearing out the old VHS stock they stumble upon an old VCR board game called Beyond The Gates and along with Gordon’s girlfriend Margot (Brea Grant) decide to play it. The board game starts to have a weird effect and leads to some mysterious deaths of some of the brother’s friends but they only have one choice but to play on as the game may hold a clue to their father’s disappearance. Entirely steeped in a retro admiration for 80’s horror and VHS culture BEYOND THE GREATS is an entertaining treat that creates an effective homage to those films that you grew up watching which is only heightened more by Wojciech Golczewski’s synth score.

The brothers are convincingly sketched characters and Stewart builds them up before launching into the gory horror, by having certain, if slightly cliched traits. Gordon is straight forward and sensible and a former alcoholic and John is a slacker and also is hanging around with dubious friends. Whilst it does take a while to go into full horror once it begins the film delightfully brings up some excellent gore effects and even though the climax looks slightly cheap and limited by budget constraints and time there is  a certain hint that this is a deliberate decision to further increase the retro VHS trash fest feel and use of prosthetic make up effects. There are also some nice supporting turns by Barbara Crampton looking stunning as usual as the host of the video game and Jesse Merlin gloriously over the top as an occult store owner (“Do you like……board games?”). It may seem overly retro fitted to the point that it might not quite work for some but there’s no denying BEYOND THE GATES is entertaining for anyone who grew up with VHS.

7.5/10

tsc1TONIGHT SHE COMES (Dir- Matt Stuertz, USA, 2016)

After a girl goes missing her two friends and some strangers are drawn to a cabin in the woods where they party, drink, laugh, masturbate, fail at having sex all the while not really paying attention to the seemingly naked women who is approaching them and who is not at all she seems where. From reading the run down of this film in the festival brochure I was expecting something that was going to be a bleak film with a downbeat nasty tone instead I wasn’t prepared for what I was about to see. Starting off like a teen slasher film even with point-of-view of the killer style camera shots TONIGHT SHE COMES starts off with a lot of energy and never lets up even when things take a complete U-turn and go even crazier, cramming in crazed hillbilly satanic rituals, completely over the top kills and a scene which seems to involve characters spilling every bit of blood from their body, including a bloody tampon!

Stuertz also brilliantly works a twist on the characters with the hillbilly’s being the ones who have a plan and are willing to go to any lengths to stop what ever evil lies outside the cabin and the partying outer town folks being the ones who are ignorant, sleazy and pretty much prone to fucking everything up and making things just as bad, a trait which reminded of the brilliant subversion in TUCKER AND DALE VS EVIL. The film also pays great homage to exploitation cinema, backwards hillbilly horror, slasher films and even body horror or alien films certainly with its ending XTRO springs to mind and trust me you wont forget the ending. Full of dark comedy, unpredictable shifts in gear and down right tons of use of blood and brilliant use of practical effects throughout, its a thoroughly twisted and original mish mash of genre extremes. It would be hard to further describe watching this its just best to go with the flow and be prepared for an energetic and crazed hour and half. The film opens with a title card saying “This film should be played loud” and that’s a truer statement as any.

9/10

I skipped THE REZORT as I had interviewing duties with Matt Stuertz who was present for the world premiere of his film and since our editor in chief Andy Deen who originally was on the interviewing tasks, was not well and was unable to make most of Saturday and today. From what I heard the film had some favourable recommendations though some saying it was decent enough if nothing to shout about. Hopefully another film to catch soon.

VillmarkAsylum_KeyArt_03-04-694x1024VILLMARK ASYLUM (Dir- Pal Oie, NORWAY, 2015)

Five contract workers take on the task of checking a huge sanatorium for hazardous waste before its inevitable demolition. However the massive building hides some secrets of its own and the workers soon face a more darker threat from within the sanatoriums walls. At first reading the synopsis of VILLMARK ASYLUM I instantly thought well this sounds familiar, SESSION 9? It does seem almost identical in parts to setting and plot set up. Though Anderson’s film is more psychological focusing on one characters mental breakdown that worsens inside the asylum, VILLMARK focuses on more physical presence that is a threat to the contract workers. The film does make fantastic use of its setting however it lacks deeper characterisation and starts to rely too much on characters stumbling around in the dark hearing noises.

The characterisation is also pretty standard and in many respects you end up not really getting that too concerned with their fate and it becomes a by the numbers game of predicting who will be knocked off next. Visually well made especially with the use of the sanatorium building, but pretty standard throughout and I just couldn’t get that feeling that I was watching a Norwegian version of SESSION 9 out of my head.

5.10

riftTHE RIFT (Dir- Dejan Zecevic, SERBIA, 2016)

A US military satellite crash lands in Eastern Serbia leading to a team of American and Serbian agents on a mission to secure the area and retrieve the remains. But all is not what it seems when they arrive at the crash site they find that something has come back with this satellite and something that is not of this world. Made in Serbia and co-written by Milan Konjevic who also co wrote another Serbian made horror film which starred Ken Foree called ZONE OF THE DEAD, THE RIFT is certainly made with the intention of being sold to an international mainly English speaking audience especially with having horror icon Foree in one of the lead roles cementing its genre selling potential.

Its an interesting if often muddled combination of horror and sci-fi that acts like a part haunted house film as well and often contains some neat visual ideas and tries to expand beyond its low budget. Whilst its not all bad the film it seems to be combining many ideas into a short running time that stretches the films already low budget and moments that drag in the middle section, along with clunky dialogue and certain scenes that come off as confusing the further it reaches towards it’s conclusion. However it works enough to hold your attention and seemingly wears its B-movie credentials on its sleeve as the director knows to combine the relevant genre moments even incorporating a TWILIGHT ZONE-esque feel to the story.

It’s also good to see Foree in a lead role and looks especially cool when he goes all crazy mode swinging an axe and also there’s a brief cameo from Mick Garris as well. Whilst the language is not in Serbian this is wholly been funded and made in the country and in many respects seems to be a chance for a foreign director to showcase his talent to a wider audience and the language of genre film-making is an especially smart way to do this. A flawed but overall entertaining enough final film for Grimm and much better than last years closing festival film.

5.5/10

After this there was a talk with Foree via Skype from Los Angeles which was an interesting and nice end to the weekends proceedings. Overall this years line up has been strong and whilst some films have been disappointing even then they still contain some interesting ideas and from the the best of the festival there’s been a few that will possibly make it onto my best of list at the end of the year or might not as it will be a tough call. But for now here is my top list of new films screened at Grimm of the best to the, er, not the best………

1. TRAIN TO BUSAN
2. TONIGHT SHE COMES
3. DIRECTORS CUT
4. TRASH FIRE
5. PET
6. BEYOND THE GATES
7. THE UNSEEN
8. MY FATHER DIE
9. ANOTHER EVIL
10. THE TAG ALONG
11. OBSERVANCE
12. BROKEN
13. LET ME MAKE YOU A MARTYR
14. VILLMARK ASYLUM
15. THE RIFT
16. THE CHAMBER

Well done Grimmfest, see you next year!