As a lifelong fan of cheesy 1980s horror films, I really wanted to love Beyond the Gates, which courts those nostalgic for the well-worn VHS copies of slashers at their long-shuttered local video stores. Hell, the film even stars Barbara Crampton (Re-Animator) and has a kick-ass throwback score from Wojciech Golczewski. The plot involves a twisted VHS board game that two estranged brothers play to save their father's damned soul. The content never quite lives up to the nostalgic premise, however, and Jackson Stewart's film suffers from a glacial pace and uninteresting characters. It is not without minor pleasures, and I did enjoy seeing Crampton as the game's ghostly captain. She, at least, appears to be having fun.
Gordon (Graham Skipper) and John Hardesty (Chase Williamson) discover their dad has been missing for seven months. Years earlier, Gordon left town, found a girlfriend and started a career, while John stayed home and started drinking. They reunite to clean out dad's cluttered video store, and find a VHS board game called "Beyond the Gates." The brothers and Gordon's girlfriend, Margot (Brea Grant), sit down to play, but immediately realize something is seriously off with the rules. The game's host, Evelyn (Crampton), offers a script tailored to the players, and provides them the chance to save the elder Hardesty's soul. Without alternatives, they begin to play the game, which has violent consequences in the real world.
This is an interesting concept, and the film initially seems poised to offer nostalgic chills. It does, to an extent, but suffers from odd pacing, ineffective character development and logic gaps. Stewart spends an exorbitant amount of time developing the leads, but neither is particularly interesting. The film leaves largely unexplained the events behind the brothers' rift, and it never elaborates on dad's significance in the lives of his sons. Gordon is uneasy after a recent spat with Margot in which he became physical, and John seems content to hang out with the deadbeats that encourage his irresponsibility. The most likeable character is Margot, who moves beyond the family drama and becomes the film's logical heroine. The game transports its characters into an alternate, ‘80s reality, but the film never capitalizes on this setting. The scares are limited, and the connection to reality is tenuous.
Think of "Beyond the Gates" as "Jumanji" for non-consenting adults. A creepy valet at one point reveals that no one has ever successfully quit or won the game, but the brothers should not be deterred. The same can't be said for their unsuspecting friends, who get sucked into the action and killed without warning. Beyond the Gates never really establishes any rules for this madness, and logic is often thrown out the window for wink-wink humor and gore. The production design is impressive, and the ‘80s love is apparent throughout the film. I also enjoyed the score and general ambition on display. I think Stewart and co-writer Stephen Scarlata had great intentions here that did not quite pan out. I give them credit for trying something unique.
IFC Midnight offers an excellent 2.40:1/1080p/AVC-encoded transfer via Shout! Factory. Fine-object detail is very impressive, as are texture and clarity. The set dressings offer intimate details, and wide shots are deep and crisp. Skin tones are accurate, and colors are nicely saturated. Shadow detail is pleasing, and blacks are inky.
The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio mix is pleasing, and offers a number of ambient effects and action sound pans. Dialogue is crisp and clear, and the score is nicely integrated. The subwoofer provides strong LFE support for jolts and the vintage soundtrack. An English 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio mix is included, as are English and Spanish subs.
You get Three Audio Commentaries: the first with Stewart, Crampton, actor Jesse Merlin, DP Brian Sowell and Scarlata; the next with Stewart, Williamson, Grant and Skipper; and the last with Junk Food Diner Podcast Hosts Kevin Moss, Parker Bowman, and Sean Byron. You also get a Behind the Scenes Featurette (10:59/HD); Deleted Scenes (2:49/HD); a Premiere Q&A (17:28/HD); the Sex Boss Short Film (5:32/HD); a Theatrical Trailer (2:06/HD); and a Retro "Beyond the Gates" Commercial (0:51/HD).
Jackson Stewart's Beyond the Gates flirts with 1980s nostalgic and an interesting premise, but suffers from odd pacing and uninteresting characters. Two estranged brothers find an old VHS board game that offers them the chance to save their father's soul. Actress Barbara Crampton shows up as the game's mysterious host, and the production design and score are spot-on. The film does not completely stick the landing, but is at least worth watching if you love ‘80s horror. Rent It.