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Beyond the Gates (2016) IMDB description: “Two estranged brothers reunite at their missing father’s video store and find a VCR board game dubbed ‘Beyond The Gates’ that holds a connection to their father’s disappearance”.
Why I took it off the list: Having recently revisited The Innkeepers (2011) and We Were Here (2015), I felt like checking out similar retro-tinged horror from that period that I hadn’t gotten around to. And Beyond the Gates (2016) was pretty high on the list. So, let’s dig in!
Review of Beyond the Gates (2016)
Beyond the Gates opens with a suitably retro opening title sequence, complete with close-ups of the whirring inner workings of a VCR, accompanied by a John Carpenter-esque electronic score, which is also employed throughout the film to good effect. That’s appropriate because director Jackson Stewart is clearly intent on making a modern homage to horror B-movies from the 80s, and he mostly succeeds.
We’re quickly introduced to a charmingly retro video store, complete with a mural homage to classic monster movies and an impressive collection of VHS tapes – aisles and aisles of them. It’s here where 2 mildly adversarial estranged brothers have reunited to liquidate their father’s business because he’s been missing for 7 months and presumed dead.
While they are sorting through inventory, they quickly come across a stack of hybrid VHS board games from the 90s. But they don’t actually discover the obviously haunted titular diversion until almost the half-hour mark. And that’s one of the biggest problems of the film in general. It simply doesn’t spend enough time at the intriguingly spooky board.
The Haunted Game Concept Feels Under-Utilized
The central concept of this film, the haunted board game, is also its best element. The game itself is like a twisted version of Jumanji, in that it can seemingly suck people into its realm while also having the ability to unleash horrors upon our own world. Like in the 1995 version of that story, the pieces also fly across the board into place as if by magic.
In that film, Jumanji could be pretty sadistic, but it certainly has some competition here. The game lashes out suddenly and violently at least twice, in some shocking and impressively mounted displays of gore, in a bar and garden, respectively.
The addition of a seductive female face practically leaping out of a television screen also screams out that Debbie Harry’s antics in Videodrome were another obvious influence.
It’s a shame then that the film doesn’t utilize the game’s twisted hold as best it could. It takes quite a while for the brothers to find the titular game, and for Beyond the Gates to unleash its best asset, Barbara Crampton (Re-Animator, Little Sister). And the film can get bogged down in filler scenes of inane banter instead of moving the plot further.
The film also gets too distracted by side characters and subplots. Although a couple of encounters with an eccentric antique dealer are entertaining due to the choice dialogue given to actor Jesse Merlin and his unabashedly campy delivery.
Crampton Is Clearly Having Fun
Stewart clearly has a deep appreciation of the kind of films that inspired this, and mostly delivers a successful modern homage. The look of the film is spot-on. Cinematographer Brian Sowell (The Inhabitant) employs a somewhat desaturated look that gradually becomes more infused with intense purples, pinks, and blues as the supernatural phenomena increase, not unlike in the recent Color Out of Space (2019).
There’s also some awesomely surreal imagery later in the film when the characters realize the game’s getting a bit more serious and deadly. The lead trio of actors also do a good job of making well-drawn characters, and some respectable arcs, sympathetic and engaging.
Perhaps best of all, Crampton is clearly having fun in a rare villain role as the intense hostess of the game. She has eerily prescient knowledge of what is going on outside the television for a woman who was seemingly recorded in the 90s, and the actor clearly relishes the chance to play an alluring and sinister enigma.
Total Score: 6/10
Beyond the Gates (2016): Worth Watching?
If you’re in the mood for a fun horror-tinged adventure with serious 80s vibes, then Beyond the Gates mostly delivers. The pace can be a bit slow and there’s too much filler, but Crampton’s performance and some neat set pieces ensure an overall entertaining ride.
Beyond the Gates (2016)
Directed by Jackson Stewart
Written by Jackson Stewart, Stephen Scarlata