Greetings from the Edge!
This week on the Edge, we’ll be taking a look at The Gatehouse, a fairy tale for adults that aims to teach us that some treasures, like secrets, are best left buried. Starring Scarlett Rayner as Eternity Winter, an inquisitive young girl who unlocks an ancient secret lost in the woods, and Simeon Willis as Jack Winter, a grieving widower and father of Eternity wracked with nightmare visions and desperate for writing work.
We open up with a father and daughter romping through the woods looking for buried treasure, only to discover that the father Jack has hidden a little box containing a book on treasure hunting in England and a few trinkets. It soon becomes clear that his wife, Eternity’s mother, has recently passed away in a boating accident and both he and his daughter are suffering from the psychological effects of the tragedy. Both are plagued with nightmares and Jack is laboring under what might be a PTSD like affliction, and they try to live their lives as best they can.
Jack manages to get some work completing an unfinished book about local witchcraft and satanism that has already lead the last writer contracted to finish it to commit suicide. Meanwhile, Eternity comes across a somewhat disturbing local eccentric while combing the woods and, as the story continues to unfold, a strange pagan-looking figure stalks two girls walking to a party along a lonely mist-covered path. Are the visions that father and daughter are experiencing a warning from beyond or simply grief and isolation playing with their minds.
The special effects in The Gatehouse are nothing to write home about, however they are largely used effectively and judicially. In fact, I wouldn’t hesitate to say that a couple of scenes manage to be truly disturbing. With the film’s dream-like atmosphere, you can never truly tell if what you are seeing is in the minds of the characters or something more sinister.
I don’t want to spoil it, but there is a nightmare sequence involving scissors, a double fake-out, and some imagery that will make any parent have nightmares of their own. Whatever its other faults may be, The Gatehouse does manage a few moments of effective imagery.
I also have to say that Scarlett Rayner has the making of a real scream queen. Her shrieks can cut diamonds. Take my word and don’t use headphones, some advice from the now partially deafened. Besides her aforementioned auditory gifts, Rayner does an excellent job for a child actor and I’m sure we’ll be seeing her again in the near future.
The Gatehouse does a better job than your run of the mill grade-z horror, but it suffers from not knowing if it wants to be a Goonies-esque kids adventure or a horror/fantasy, and its wild swings between the two extremes leave a muddled feeling… and that’s before the last minute tacked-on environmental message.
The Gatehouse had the chance to be something a little bit more, but fails in the end. Please don’t get me wrong, when compared with pictures like Cute Little Buggers let alone absolute train wrecks like Alien: Reign of Man, it compares nothing but favorably. It’s just sad that what could have been truly good falls into the earnest but still incompetent category. Hopefully the next production from writer/director Martin Gooch will be informed by the problems with The Gatehouse and either blend its two natures together with more art or focus on a single genre.
Sadly, I just can’t recommend The Gatehouse. It’s too good to be truly riffed on a quiet evening with friends and not good enough to carry itself on its own merits. It manages a few effective moments but fails to tie enough of them together to make it anything other than a curiosity. I do, however, encourage its director and actors to keep plugging away. It was an above-average first effort and shows real promise for the future. Don’t be discouraged, learn from your mistakes and go forward knowing you can do better. For now, I’d recommend the original The Wicker Man from 1973, not for kids ( really, really, not for kids ) but it plays on the whole mystery with pagan overtones and a hidden conspiracy idea better than just about any other film.
Nerdy Speculation Corner: Warning, may contain both spoilers and dangerous amounts of geekery!
I have to wonder if the idea of Eternity finding the old flintlock pistol in the woods was originally supposed to end in a far darker place ( darker than a little girl shooting someone in the head with a magic rock? ) Especially after a confrontation with some local bully girls, I was honestly worried she was going to kill one of them in a moment of rage. Good job on making me feel for the characters. Most of the films I review on the Edge make me more numb than concerned.
Also, I felt like the shift of the Horned God from antagonist to misunderstood protector/guardian was waaaaaay too abrupt. I mean, he may not have turned out to be the main villain of the piece, but he still merged a teenage girl with a tree, killed a police officer, and coerced a little girl to shoot a man in the head, so maybe let’s not invite him around tea anytime soon is what I’m saying.
Oh, and I thought Eternity was a little quick with the whole Viking funeral for her father Jack. Jeez kid, at least see if he’s still breathing before you torch him. Seriously, this kids needs some therapy stat!
Next time on the Edge, we take a dip outside of the d-list into the b with the 2013 Fishburne/Paxton apocalypse film, The Colony. Locked in the heart of a new ice age, a group of survivors must not only face unrelenting nature but the savagery of their fellow humans if they wish to survive their harsh new world. See you there, kiddos!
The Gatehouse hits VOD on December 5th, 2017.