L.A. Film Festival Review: BEYOND THE GATES

BTGTrends are cyclical, in horror and collecting. We see resurgence of things long thought dead. Vinyl has been selling strong, and within the collector community, VHS culture is humming along. One of those pieces of VHS that is due for a return is the VCR board game craze. Whether it be the NIGHTMARE series or others, there were many interactive games that included a fold out game board, playing pieces, where you followed along to the video prompts. Capturing that spirit, we now have Jackson Stewart’s homage to all things past, BEYOND THE GATES.

Following the 7 month disappearance of their father, two brothers, John (Chase Williamson) and Gordon (Graham Skipper), must clean up their father’s now closed VHS video store (filmed at the AWESOME Los Angeles staple, Eddie Brandt’s) and home. While cleaning and boxing up the endless amount of VHS tapes,  they discover a game that may just be the JUMANJI for the VCR horror game culture. The brothers, along with Gordon’s girlfriend (Brea Grant) decide to play the game, finding that it may lead to uncovering the mystery of their missing father.

The film is cast perfectly, as both Skipper and Williamson have proven themselves time and time again as competent adversaries to weird shit. Skipper in ALMOST HUMAN, THE MIND’S EYE and Williamson in JOHN DIES AT THE END. Both actors fit right in as things get crazy in numerously sinister ways. Challenged by the game to find a series of missing keys that could possibly lead to uncovering where their father could be, the three of them are faced with everything dealing with one hell of an odd shop keeper (played excellently by RE-ANIMATOR: THE MUSICAL‘s Jesse Merlin), a tough and abusive bully played by THE SIGNAL‘s Justin Welborn and in a pretty funny role, CONTRACTED‘s Matt Mercer.

Brea Grant is the ultimate maiden character. She’s beautiful, but also sweet, caring, and believable, giving us all the more reason to care for her well-being. Genre favorite Barbara Crampton does a stellar job as the menacing game host, delivering a creepy line delivery throughout while also able to maintain an even more diabolic stare as she awaits the player’s next move. It’s awesome to see Crampton tackle so many impressive and entertaining roles since returning in front of the camera in the now fan favorite Adam Wingard film, YOU’RE NEXT.

The opening title sequence lets you know upfront what you are getting into as well as we get an almost pornographic display of a VHS tape being slowly inserted into a VCR, before proceeding to see the unspooling of the tape as it is run lovingly across the magnetic heads. All of this is scored with a synth title by Wojciech Golczewski (WE ARE STILL HERE, LATE PHASES). Golczewski’s score really takes you back to that long forgotten era and the combination between the music and the almost Argento-like lighting makes BEYOND THE GATES one of the most authentic homages around. Yes, the ’80s love is quite strong for Stewart and company.

BEYOND THE GATES does a great job of keeping a quick pace and doesn’t over stay it’s welcome. A helluva fun ride as we follow John and Gordon’s game, and an entertaining adventure full of shocks, surprises and a film that will stay in your head for days.