Beyond the Gates (2016)

beyond the gates
After their father’s mysterious disappearance, two estranged brothers come together to clean up his old used video store. In his office, they find an old VHS board game titled “Beyond the Gates”. Discovering the game’s VHS tape to be the last thing their dad watched, they decide on a lark to watch it, and find there is more to the game than they originally thought. If they win the game, they get to save their father. If they lose, THEY ARE BANISHED.

Fans of old VHS board games, especially Nightmare, will find nostalgia value in this little film, but sadly not much else. It’s fun to see 80’s horror starlet Barbara Crampton as the host of Beyond the Gates, but there really isn’t much more to recommend here. Which is disheartening, because Beyond the Gates is a neat concept.

For a film that is supposed to be about a horror fantasy board game bleeding over into the real world, perhaps the biggest mistake Beyond the Gates makes is shooting the film primarily under natural lighting. This sense of normalcy, combined with the lead characters (Graham Skipper, Brea Grant, Chase Williams) sleep walking through their roles with no urgency at all keeps the Beyond the Gates from having any sense of otherwordliness or suspense. Instead of traversing through a haunted nether world to save their father, they end up playing with voodoo dolls and digging up holes in the backyard.  Imagine if Jumanji had nothing more exciting than a house cat, and you can understand why Beyond the Gates is so disappointing. I will give Beyond the Gates props for having decent gore effects in the film, but the scenes they are in are so silly that it doesn’t make much of a difference towards the quality of the film.

product_detail_3162030205001_5319152991001_5319141380001-vsThe film’s ending leaves the door wide open for a sequel, and co-writer Jackson Stewart has announced there will be a Beyond the Gates II. The filmmakers should fully cash in on the nostalgia value of both the Nightmare games and the VHS horror era by having different “hosts” for the game played by veteran horror actors. I’m sure Jeffery Combs wouldn’t mind taking a break from voicing cartoon characters to make a quick pay day.

The plot should also be more engaging. For example, putting the game itself on a timer like in the original Nightmare. This would help give the story a sense of urgency and forward momentum. It also wouldn’t hurt to have the host have a more active role in the game. Barbara Crampton doesn’t do much in the role except stare into the camera awkwardly waiting for the characters to do something, which doesn’t have the commanding presence of the Gatekeeper from the Nightmare game series. The Gatekeeper made playing the game a harrowing experience through jump scares and punitive actions. The characters in Beyond the Gates at one point throw the entire damned game in the trashcan. That shouldn’t have been allowed to happen.

522708_1To help make a sequel more engaging, make it meta, by having the audience themselves feel like they are the characters in the film. Start out Beyond the Gates II with the “TURN THE LIGHTS DOWN AND THE VOLUME UP” instructions featured in both Nightmare and the VHS tape in the film. Then have the host introduce themselves to the audience, and of course, insult them. Then introduce the movies new main character, have him pop in the VHS tape with his family, and completely terrorize them for the next 80 some minutes. Beyond the Gates made the mistake of making the game play secondary to the brothers walking around talking to each other in non-engaging conversations. A Beyond the Gates II should be pedal the floor horror as the game players are forced to continue to play without interruption, something that is seriously lacking in this film.

Beyond the Gates writer/director Jackson Stewart and co-writer Stephen Scarlata have their hearts in the right place with this film, and I hate to be so critical of it because I really wanted to like it. Others have had a blast with it, so don’t let my review stop you from checking it out for yourself. It is currently streaming on Netflix, and if you have 90 some minutes to kill, Beyond the Gates may be worth your time.






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