Beyond The Gates is a modern retelling of Jumanji made specifically for people who love horror movies and get off on memories of a time when VHS dominated the home entertainment marketplace. It’s a celebration of the macabre that has just as many frights as it does visual delights, and I dare say it has a good shot at being your favorite genre film of 2016.
Set in the present day, Beyond The Gates opens with two estranged brothers—uptight Gordon (Graham Skipper) and rebellious John (Chase Williamson)—coming together seven months after the disappearance of their father to clean out his fiercely anachronistic video rental store. Neither one has the slightest idea where their father could have gone, or if he’s even alive, but they each find a kind of strange comfort from being in the same space he filled for the majority of their lives. Each day is filled with reflection and packing, until one of the brothers stumbles upon a video board game called Beyond The Gates. The tape for the game appears to be the last thing their father watched, but they quickly realize that there is more to the video than meets the eye.
Together with Gordon’s girlfriend, Margot (Brea Grant), the brothers visit their father’s empty home and decide to play the game for themselves. The first thing they see is a guide (Barbara Crampton) who tells them that the only way to save their father’s soul is to play and win the game. The trio initially believes the comment to be part of an elaborate hoax, possibly one perpetrated by their missing father, but they soon come to realize the game is taking on a life of its own. As in Jumanji, the things inside the game begin to appear in the real world, which forces the group to finish the game in hopes of returning everything to normal.
The puzzles of the game come with the kind of twists that would make Hitchcock squeal with joy. Every action has an equal reaction, though what that will be and whose life it will impact remains a mystery until the last possible second. The beauty of this setup is that it forces the brothers and Margot to dive further and further into the world Beyond The Gates because each new turn is more impossible to believe than the last. There is nowhere to turn for help. No one would believe them if they tried (and trust me, they try).
It takes a long time for Beyond The Gates to dig into the game itself—more than half the runtime in fact—but thanks to the film’s talented cast. that wait never feels like a chore. Everyone seen on screen is a notable talent in the horror genre today, including the supporting players. Matt Mercer (Contracted: Phase Two), for example, appears as a police officer and has maybe five minutes of screen time. Likewise, Crampton is only seen through a video on television and appears to have never been on set with the rest of the cast.
While watching Beyond The Gates I found myself becoming incredibly engaged with the dynamic between Gordon and John. The screenplay from Jackson Stewart and Stephen Scarlata provides very little information as to what initially drove the pair apart, so viewers hoping to get the most out of their experience will need to pay careful attention and read between the lines whenever possible. The fact that they will inevitably need to work together is never up for debate, but watching the story slowly push them toward one another is nonetheless enjoyable.
If it weren’t for an underwhelming finale I believe Beyond The Gates would rise to a level of cult popularity shared by the 1980s horror classics that inspired its creation. That said, the film still manages to be scarier and far more entertaining than the vast majority of mainstream genre fare released in 2016. A movie like this probably won’t change anyone’s life, but with its undeniably unique vision and one-of-a-kind visual aesthetic it just might inspire other horror hounds to create scary tales of their own. At least, I hope that is the case, because I think we could all use more movies like Beyond The Gates in our lives.