In digging through the Netflix basement, I came across Beyond The Gates, which I heard about on a movie podcast. It’s an indie horror movie about a killer board game and the seamy side of North Hollywood. Shall we check it out?
Beyond the Gates (2016)
We start off in the 80s, where two sons help Dad and Mom hang a “Now Opening” sign on a video store. But things are not right when dad gets an unenthusiastic look on his face as we cut to titles. Actually we cut to a close up of a VHS tape being fed into a VCR, then the tape being fed through sprockets and across the VCR heads and then the titles. So yeah, not actually as good. We get it, it’s about an evil video tape. Do we need to see how a video tape works? No, we don’t.
Flash forward to dad being an alcoholic and died, and now the two grown-up sons have to take over the store and box up Dad’s house. The video store has become the iconic Los Angeles landmark Eddie Brandt’s Saturday Matinee, which is still in business in reality, not in the movie. There is a lot of back story to talk about. Dad died in mysterious circumstances, but not mysterious enough to show us. Mom is completely forgotten about for the rest of the movie. The two brothers have gone their separate ways. One has a hot, blonde girlfriend that he’d never be able to get if this wasn’t a movie.
Eventually they find a video tape for one of those cheesy 80s horror/mystery board games with accompanying video. This was apparently the last thing Dad watched, so it might give them some insight into how he died, maybe? The logic isn’t quite there. And I’m not spoiling anything by saying that the game is magical and that Horror Legend Barbara Crampton is the sultry but mysterious narrator of the game, Evelyn. And that, like Jumanji, once you start the game you must go through the paces of playing it while things from Beyond The Gates of HELL come to kill you.
What’s odd about the movie is that the first half hour diddles around with shadows in the dark, the girlfriend’s sleepwalking red herrings, and incessant tinkle-tinkle horror music despite nothing actually scary or mysterious happening. I will charitably call it deliberately paced. It has the look and feel of an episode of Goosebumps. Then after 45 minutes they actually start the Beyond The Gates game and there’s geysers of blood and spilled entrails. So it jumps from 0 to 60, from PG creepy shadows for kids to “Oh My God That Dude’s Head Exploded In a Fountain of Gore and Brain Matter!!!”
I have to say, the Beyond the Gates GAME is terrible. Sure, you get to chat with a monochrome Barbara Crampton on your TV set, but who would want to play a game where you have to brutally murder your friends to move to the next room? I don’t get it. I wish there was more creativity in the puzzles and more exciting game play. Ultimately, the story doesn’t make any sense. I’m not sure how stabbing your estranged, already dead father with a ceremonial dagger leads to any kind of closure, but that’s the twisted logic of this movie. What kind of message are you sending to the young, impressionable hipsters who just want to play a bad 80s party game with ironic detachment?
BOTTOM LINE: This movie is clearly a labor of love by the filmmakers, so I’m not going to rip it too hard. And they do a lot with their clearly limited budget. I’m pretty sure all of the locations are within a few blocks of each other in North Hollywood. There are some good ideas but, ultimately, it’s frustrating. The stop and start nature of the plot, where the brothers roll the dice, then a shadow or a noise happens, then they stop playing the game, then they talk about playing the game, then the dude with the too hot girlfriend has a nightmare and wakes up, then they go through it all again, is tedious. Being that this is an homage to Evil Dead and all of those 1980s “evil is channeled through a ouija board/cable TV/976 number” movies, once they begin the game in earnest all hell needs to break loose and the movie needs to go for broke. We do not need to take another trip to the mysterious antique store where the too pale store owner plays coy about the nature of the game.