There’s a little something special about checking out a movie or a show on a streaming site with little to no preconceived notions based on critic reviews, trailers, etc. That’s exactly what I did when I found on the 2016 horror flick, Beyond the Gates, while casually browsing the ‘horror’ section on Netflix.
Post-viewing, I found the film had a a 5.2 star rating on IMDB and, while having an 82% critic score on Rotten Tomatoes, also boasted a walloping 28% audience score. Effectively, there is little consensus as to the quality of this movie.
In my coveted opinion, however, I thought it was great.
It’s hard to say that Beyond the Gates is completely original, but it does have some unique ideas. It rides the trendy wave of 80s & early 90s nostalgia complete with a synth-based soundtrack, a niche video rental store, and a Jumanji-inspired plot blended with homages to the low-budget, direct-to-video horror films that were oh so prevalent on the shelves of many folks’ local childhood Blockbuster Video stores.
Beyond the Gates tells the story of two estranged brothers who come together to clean out their father’s old video store after he’s been missing for 7 months. During this process, the pair discover a horror-themed VHS-board game in their father’s office that he must have been playing just before going missing. Of course, the decision is then made to play the game because what could go wrong? The brothers then find themselves greeted by a charismatically creepy and ghostly gatekeeper played by horror veteran Barbara Crampton, who then informs them that by playing (and completing) the game they will not only be playing for their father’s soul, but their own as well.
Soon, our main characters discover that aspects of the game impact reality around them, and as they progress through it’s story – finding keys to the eponymous gate – the entrance to the game’s dark universe begins to manifest in their basement.
Despite an evident lower budget and some cheesy effects, the acting in Beyond the Gates is solid and the film succeeds in layering some realistic family drama amidst the greater horror elements. What really stood out to me, however, is the film’s overall design and aesthetic. Particularly of note is the director’s use of varying shades of purple and violet that bathe several scenes in a unique fog of color setting an interesting and distinct tone. On top of that, the design of the game itself – evidently inspired by the real-life VHS-board game, Nightmare – makes me kind of actually want to play it if it weren’t…well…evil.
While Beyond the Gates borrows many concepts from other films and relies heavily on its homages as a narrative tool, it does enough to keep itself unique and fresh. Director Jackson Stewart craftily managed the difficult task of not letting the film take itself too seriously while avoiding the decent into straight parody. The film’s creators’ fondness for old-school 80s horror and the cultural fandom that spawned real niche VHS-board games like Beyond the Gates is on full display here. Pairing that with Stewart’s attention to detail and eye for aesthetics throughout make for an overall fun movie experience that is absolutely worth an hour and a half of your Netflix time.