The Movie Waffler Sci-Fi-London Film Festival 2017 Review - THE GATEHOUSE | The Movie Waffler

Sci-Fi-London Film Festival 2017 Review - THE GATEHOUSE

A young girl's discovery of a mysterious artefact unleashes a malevolent force.

Review by Ren Zelen

Directed by: Martin Gooch

Starring: Scarlett Rayner, Simeon Willis, Linal Haft, Paul Freeman, Hannah Waddingham, Alix Wilton Regan, Melissa Knatchbull

Martin Gooch's The Gatehouse concerns Jack, a struggling writer recovering from the recent death by drowning of his wife. Jack is coping with recurring nightmares and with being a single parent looking after his 10-year-old daughter called ‘Eternity’. Having been named so pretentiously, it may not be entirely surprising that she is precocious, not entirely likeable, and gets bullied at school.

Although she occasionally refers to her dear-departed mum, Eternity seems perfectly content to gently manipulate her dad and be left alone to go about her own business, which includes being lippy to adults and trudging around in the forest behind her house digging for treasure.

Looking for any kind of writing job in order to pay the bills, her harried dad takes a project from his brusque and unaccomodating agent. It’s an unfinished book by an author interested in the occult who was writing about the ‘legend of the black flowers’. Apparently the author committed suicide and the book has had a chequered and unpleasant history. None of this puts Jack off however, and he blithely undertakes further research in order to finish the project.

By coincidence, Eternity is on one of her digging expeditions and discovers an odd artefact in the woods. She decides to take it home, which is of course, exactly what she shouldn’t do…

The removal of the mysterious object apparently unleashes an ancient curse, and ‘bad things’ start to happen: Ghost mum is haunting the house; a girl goes missing one night while her friend (Eternity’s babysitter) narrowly escapes, but receives an unusual wound on her arm; a policewoman is killed; the creepy neighbour from the farm next door roams around the land with his rifle while chuckling ominously at the end of every sentence …you get the idea.

Eternity finds an antique pistol, which she secretly learns how to clean and shoot. The teen daughter of a nice female neighbour (the aforementioned escapee from the midnight assailant) comes to babysit, and after spooky occurrences calls in a young medium with a foreign accent, weird eyeliner and Marilyn Manson contact lenses, who hovers around wafting burning sage leaves, then hurries away.

People are supposed to be dead, but then turn out not to be dead after all (a pointless plot device that continues all the way through to the messy denouement) and rather a lot of loosely connected stuff goes on in the interim. It’s all quite entertaining, but one feels that maybe it would have been judicious to have resisted the temptation to sling in all but the kitchen sink.

The Gatehouse purports to be a fantastical story of local legends and sinister mythical creatures, and is diverting enough, but it has such a lot thrown into it that it often doesn’t seem to know quite what kind of story it is.

Sometimes it’s a ghost story, as the Gatehouse is haunted by the spirit of Jack’s dead wife, who appears, looking suitably white and hollow-eyed to warn her family of impending doom. Her hand reaches out of the water to catch an object Eternity throws like the lady of the lake grasping Excalibur. Occasionally she even manifests in her normal, living form to ghost-brush her daughter’s hair and give advice, or to rouse her husband when she feels he might be slacking…or playing dead.

Sometimes the movie deals with the occult, with ancient curses and pagan gods coming to exact indiscriminate vengeance. We are presented with odd characters, mad authors, punk mediums, Viking burials, creepy neighbours, school bullies and even something that ultimately adds up to a romantic interest.

Apart from all the faux-gothic trappings, the film also displays a strand of quirky humour. The most rewarding thing about the film is the relationship between Eternity and her dad Jack – often played for laughs but with genuine warmth and affection, and not eschewing the inevitable exasperation felt by a parent with a recalcitrant child. Scarlett Rayner plays Eternity as a headstrong girl with a playfully gory imagination. Simeon Willis, as her harassed dad, matches his daughter’s quirkiness with some unorthodox parenting, and the duo have a chemistry that comes across well on screen. Both seem fairly unfazed by the veritable whirlwind of weirdness going on around them.

For me personally, the narrative structure doesn’t hang together coherently enough for a feature film, and it could work much better episodically, (perhaps not surprisingly as the director has a background in TV). The Gatehouse could be brilliant as a four-part Gothic-horror series for kids, if it wasn’t for the fact that it's very morally ambiguous at times and displays mildly gory horror.