Review: Beyond The Gates (2017)


1980’s scream queen Barbara Crampton stars in this homage to the retro VHS board games of the 1980’s, a cool concept that unfortunately doesn’t play out as well as it sounds on the screen.

A few years back, the wave of nostalgia that fueled the revival of vinyl in the early 2000’s seemed to hit a similar analog format, the venerable VHS casette tape. There were two back to back documentaries released on those behind the trend, 2013’s Adjust Your Tracking and Rewind This!. These films examined the insane popularity of the format in the 1980’s, which grew beyond films to cover workout tapes, instructional and devotional videos and even VHS-based board games you could play while interacting with the video in your VCR. Filmmaker Jackson Stewart focused on this short-lived board game fad in directing his first feature, Beyond The Gates, a homage to low budget horror as well as the VHS format.

Chase Williamson (John Dies At The End) and Graham Skipper (The Mind’s Eye) play a pair of estranged brothers who have been reunited by the death/disappearance of their absentee father, the purveyor of a long past obsolete video store that the brothers must now take on the burden of liquidating. During their exploration of the store, they come across the key to their father’s long off-limits office in which they find a videotape which may have been the last thing their father ever watched. That tape? A super obscure VHS board game called Beyond The Gates, hosted by the creepy character Evelyn (Barbara Crampton); who may or may not be interacting with the brothers through the video in order to lure them into finding out what really happened to their father by playing the game themselves.

Despite the intriguing premise behind the movie, the film’s pacing really hurts the narrative. It’s established early on the brothers have an arm’s length relationship with their father and each other. The film’s pacing belabors this to where there is little thrust driving the film forward. Even the sinister nature of Crampton’s Evelyn character is undercut when she is used to info dump at the end of the film to create some impetus behind the film’s third act. Genre vet Brea Grant does well in the film as Margot, the romantic partner of Skipper’s character Gordon. The interaction between the two seems real and their relationship is one of the film’s few saving graces. However, the film handles some scenes with her character in a very haphazard way; to the point where she undertakes some actions just to drive the plot forward versus her characterization. There’s a very telling one where she undertakes a dangerous part of the game and is either replaced or possessed by a demon/doppelganger. Its very unclear and the scene is important, which makes watching the film somewhat frustrating.

Overall, Beyond the Gates has an interesting premise and concept to explore. The atmosphere in the production values invokes films like From Beyond; which is deliberate and a good homage to those types of film. But the pacing and ultimately thin story make it difficult to recommend this beyond hardcore fans of the genre.