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IFI Horrorthon 2016 Review - BEYOND THE GATES

Two brothers come across a mysterious VHS game which may be related to their father's disappearance.






Review by Eric Hillis (@hilliseric)

Directed by: Jackson Stewart

Starring: Graham Skipper, Chase Williamson, Barbara Crampton, Brea Grant, Sara Malakul Lane, Jesse Merlin



Mixing old school genre tropes with a very modern indie drama sensibility, Jackson Stewart has delivered one of the best horror movies of recent years, a film that isn't short on brains, guts and most importantly, heart.



'Charming' and 'heart-warming' aren't adjectives usually associated with horror movies, but Beyond the Gates - writer-director Jackson Stewart's love letter to 1980s genre cinema and the joys of the video store - really is bloody lovely, a warm blanket for horror fans to snuggle under.

Nostalgia is everywhere on screen today, but while Hollywood is exploiting it as a way to cash-in by rebooting previously dead franchises and shows like Stranger Things ram it down our throats by somewhat cynically filling the screen with '80s ephemera, Beyond the Gates evokes the sensation simply because it really does resemble a movie you might have stumbled across in the horror section of your local rental store 30 years ago.


Stewart opens his tale with a flashback to the opening of a family owned video store in 1992, and instantly anyone old enough to remember such establishments will feel a few butterflies in the pits of their stomachs. We then cut to the post-analog present, where said store is long derelict. Arriving to clear it out are a pair of previously estranged brothers - uptight Gordon (Graham Skipper) and manchild John (Chase Williamson) - the sons of the store's previous owner, who vanished long enough ago to now be declared legally dead.

Revisiting the aisles of their family's once great picture palace (if you're like me, you'll find yourself squinting to identify the many VHS spines), the two brothers bond over childhood memories, and realising his brother is essentially homeless, Gordon invites John to stay in the home he has now inherited with his bubbly girlfriend Margot (Brea Grant).


While clearing out the store, the two come across an old VHS board game. For those of you too young to remember, back in the day some board games came with a VHS tape which the game required you to play at strategic points. Taking it home, Gordon, John and Margot settle down for an evening of nostalgic gaming. Playing the VHS tape, the trio are greeted with the face of a beautiful woman (Barbara Crampton, looking as good as she did in her Re-Animator days) clad in a classic Hammer style white gown. Her cryptic dialogue doesn't seem to have anything to do with the game, and when a friend visits, it becomes clear she is only visible to our three heroes. As the gang play the game and uncover clues that seem to be related to their father's disappearance, their actions have deadly consequences for those around them.

Try to imagine a horror movie made by Kenneth Lonergan and you'll have some idea of the tone of Beyond the Gates. While Stewart handles the horror element in a fun manner that will please gorehounds and genre buffs, his film is really a homecoming drama in a Halloween costume, and a truly endearing one. Gordon, John and Margot are genuinely likeable, the sort of fictional characters you would enjoy hanging out with regardless of the storyline, and the reconciliation between Gordon and John is a sincerely touching, literal 'bro'-mance.


It's the innocence of Beyond the Gates that makes it feel so much like a lost film from a past era. It's a movie that's unafraid to be a little silly at times, yet it never delves into comedy of a crass variety. A sub-plot involving a spooky bric-a-brac store run by an oddball proprietor (played with relish by Jesse Merlin) is frankly ridiculous, yet it never feels out of place or a distraction from the main narrative. Similarly, characters behave in a manner that would make little sense in the real world, but in the milieu of the film their behaviour feels just right.

Mixing old school genre tropes with a very modern indie drama sensibility, Jackson Stewart has delivered one of the best horror movies of recent years, a film that isn't short on brains, guts and most importantly, heart.






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