The Movie Waffler New Release Review (VOD) - THE GATEHOUSE | The Movie Waffler

New Release Review (VOD) - THE GATEHOUSE

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

Review by Benjamin Poole

Directed by: Martin Gooch

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

the gatehouse poster

The burlesque pop which soundtracks the opening to writer/director Martin Gooch’s British indie The Gatehouse sets the whimsical tone of playful folk horror, which blends kiddie TV tropes with old fashioned British occultism. As the Halloweeny strains of the track fade, we follow 10-year-old Eternity Winter (Scarlett Rayner - genuinely great) as dad Jack (Simeon Willis - Guy Garvey lookalike) takes her for a little nosey in the woods surrounding their ramshackle and isolated home. Eternity is a keen amateur archaeologist, who enjoys digging in the woods for buried gems: today she wonders aloud if they will find a ‘unicorn skeleton’, to which her dad replies that ‘unicorn skeletons are always purple’. How delightful! Problem is, however, that Eternity’s hobbyist excavations may well have uncovered certain spooky talismans, totems that were never meant to be removed from the forest, and which end up causing all sorts of problems for the Winter family throughout this uneven but fun film - yikes!

the gatehouse

Mischievous intertitles inform us that events within the film occurred ‘yesterday’ and are furthermore based ‘on a true story’, but I’m not sure how far we should believe this. For one thing, Jack is haunted by nightmare visions of his dead wife (in flashbacks we gradually find out that she perished in the nearby lake: a pissed Jack took her out on a rowing boat for a jolly and she went and fell in). And there’s also some sort of lurid pagan monster - all stag horns and shaggy fur - winding people up as they wander through the forest at night. All this going on as dad Jack, a freelance writer, is sent on a wild ghost chase by his publisher to uncover the grave history of the area; during which he only goes and bumps into Paul Freeman (he of exploding head in Raiders of the Lost Ark fame)!

the gatehouse

That the name of Freeman’s character is Evelyn Eldritch gives clear pointers towards the general tone of this film, a knockabout British horror whose tongue seems to be in its ruddied cheek. The Gatehouse’s plot has the indiscriminate narrative propulsion of a small child telling a story: this happened, then this happened, then a ghost came, then a psychic came over and was sick (which does, regrettably, occur). At certain points the soundtrack flips to a voiceover speaking in the past tense (which, if the events in the film happened ‘yesterday’ must mean that, chronologically, the V.O. is coming from the future? Mind: blown) before being completely dropped, and at other times the apparitions of the dead mum/wife are genuinely jolting, but then the film goes and ruins them by doubling down on the scares as it trots out the whole it’s-a-dream-no-it-isn’t-haha-yeah-it-was-a-dream-actually dynamic at least three times. Annoying.

the gatehouse

That said, it is impossible to take against a film that is so eager to entertain its audience. Whether by accident or design, there is a refreshing lack of pretence to The Gatehouse. It’s cheap yes, but oh so cheerful (it is cheap, mind: when we first see the stagmonster I thought it was supposed to be someone dressed up, a masked maniac like in the slasher films, not an authentically mystic creature from an atavistic past). A bit like babysitting an imaginative, hyperactive niece, by the time The Gatehouse reaches its improbably eco-positive denouement you may be exasperated but you won’t have been at all bored. At one point in the film a character sagely intones that ‘we make up horrors in order to help us cope with the real ones’, but it’s dubious how far the scares in The Gatehouse can credibly inoculate us against the various terrors of real life. Instead, considering the film’s distinctive, niche appeal, perhaps there is more truth to be found in one of Jack’s fanciful bon mots; ‘some monsters like the smell of burps’.

The Gatehouse is on VOD December 5th.

Read Ren Zelen's review from the 2017 Sci-Fi-London Film Festival.