Written by J. Weagle
Press play… And pray.
From the very beginning there is something charming about Beyond the Gates. Right away from the opening credits that act as a throwback to 1980’s cheese with bright pink colors and a synth soundtrack that could have been lifted from any number of films from that decade. It’s a style that many horror films have gravitated towards over the past few years paying homage to a simpler time, some manage to capture that feeling better than others and for the most part this horror comedy is one of them.
The film follows two brothers who reunite back in their home town to liquidate their fathers old VHS video rental store. As the two brothers dig dipper into their fathers collection and reveal more of his secrets they discover an old Video board game titled Beyond the Gates. Soon after inserting the tape into a VCR it is revealed that the game has real world consequences to anyone who is brave enough to play it, and they now must finish the game to save their fathers mortal soul. If the story sounds cheesy that’s because it is, playing like a dark violent version of Jumanji only instead of jungle wild life think exploding heads and tormented souls.
The cast is made up of mostly unknowns, with the exception of Brea Grant who plays the girlfriend who gets involved in the whole mess becoming a player, for the most part everyone does a pretty alright job. No performance in this film will win an award or anything but the brothers relationship felt believable and real helping to make it easy to connect with and care for them. With that being said Barbara Crampton as Evelyn the board game host seen only from the television screen absolutely steals every scene she is in, being both ridiculously sexy and menacing at the same time.
The one issue I did have with Beyond the Gates is that so often it seems to forget about it’s 80’s nostalgia only to bring it up when it wants to be cute or feels the moment is right. This is fine but tonally creates some inconsistency that probably could have easily been avoided. When it does lean on those retro vibes however is when the film shines the brightest, with some special effects that nail what I remember about that time period, along with a pretty great soundtrack.
There’s a lot going on here, more than initially meets the eye. For starters it deals with some heavy subjects such as trying to overcome and deal with loss, brotherly love as well as the importance of a strong relationship. Themes run deep in Beyond the Gates, with both obvious and not so obvious visual metaphors popping up all over the place, and despite it’s cheese ball appearance I could appreciate a horror film that has something a little more layered to bring to the table. My first thought was that this would be a hilarious gruesome ride, and part of me wishes that’s what I would have got. Instead I found a more somber film wrapped in a retro blanket that despite its many strong points ultimately never finds its true identity.