Friday, June 2, 2017

Don't Watch This Alone!: BEYOND THE GATES

Welcome to another installment of DON'T WATCH THIS ALONE!, where we review the best, worst, and everything in between in the world of horror. This week Robert reviews a horror movie involving one of the more obscure pieces of 1980s pop-culture, 2016's BEYOND THE GATES.

One of my favorite horror tropes is when they try to take something mundane or familiar, and make it scary. Sometimes this succeeds, sometimes it fails, but even the failures gain that little extra something over horror movies that content themselves with another story of the Supernatural looking to make trouble.

In what I assume was an attempt at distinguishing itself from the crowd, the Mundane Thing at the core of Beyond the Gates is a VCR board game. If you're not familiar with those, VCR board games were just like regular board games, but with a video tape meant to be played alongside the game. Think of a game like "Scene It" with a VHS tape instead of a DVD, and you're pretty much there.

Our story begins in 1992, and the family Hardesty has just opened a video store. The movie then promptly skips to the present day, and the video store is now closed. Seven months previously, family patriarch Bob Hardesty disappeared, which would have been mysterious, but for the fact that he was apparently known for skipping town every once in a while. At any rate, he's gone, the store is failing, and so brothers Gordon and John have decided to just shutter the place for good. While cleaning out the store, they discover a VCR board game called "Beyond the Gates", and things pretty much unfold the way you would expect from there.

          STUPID PERSON: "Ooh, look! Something spooky and mysterious. Let's poke it with a stick!"

          *poke poke poke*

          THE SUPERNATURAL: "Mmm, lunch!"


          Roll Credits.

To be fair to the brothers Hardesty, deciding to play the spooky VCR game is not as stupid a decision as, say, opening Hellraiser's puzzle box, for example. Our boys at least have a fighting chance. And they are spurred onward to keep playing when they learn that, in doing so, they have the chance to rescue their father. So they press on, and the game quickly spills into the real world, weird (and sometimes grisly) stuff happens, and we are all entertained.

Beyond the Gates makes me wish CinemaSins would step out of their comfort zone of mocking well-known blockbusters and dabble in more obscure fare. I noticed a lot of stuff that was joke-worthy watching this movie, so I know they would catch plenty more. But since that likely isn't to be, here's what I got instead.

First, credit where it's due: if you look closely at the shelves of the video store in the early scenes, you'll notice the shelves are stocked with real-world movies. They don't even try to do that thing where one letter of an otherwise easily identifiable logo is covered. The only exception is a copy of the 1980s board game "Trump: The Game", which lurks in the background of one shot, with the letter "T" blacked out. Otherwise, there are almost no fake properties to be seen, and I tip my hat to this touch of detail.

Beyond that, the faults show through. Graham Skipper, as brother Gordon Hardesty, reminded me of a low-budget Daniel Radcliffe. Justin Welborn, who plays Hank, loser friend of loser brother John Hardesty, is such a one-dimensional a**hole creep that you just know he's going to die (spoilers: he does). The brothers' cop-friend Derek (Matt Mercer), is decent enough, until he shows up "possesed by the game" (or whatever the reason is for why he suddenly turns up evil) looking like a low-budget Rick Grimes, a la The Walking Dead, season one. Gordon's girlfriend, Margot (Brea Grant), has got to be the flakiest woman ever to appear in a horror movie. Not thirty seconds after learning of the game and saying "C'mon, let's play it!", thus setting this whole gruesome spectacle in motion, she suddenly announces that she's "getting a really bad energy" from the game, and retreats upstairs to bed. She waffles like this through the whole movie, right up until she plays the damsel in distress. And finally, there's the Creepy Woman, appearing in the Creepy Game's Creepy Video, who does a fine job given that she's nothing more than a talking head. My problem with her is her eyeshadow, which becomes more and less heavy each time she appears, until the last time we see her, when she's positively caked in the stuff.

And it's not just the cast; the movie itself is like one big meme. There's the half-glimpsed shadowy figures, the photo that falls off a fireplace mantle all on its own, the strange noises, and so many convenient plot devices to keep the story moving that it just comes off as lazy. My favorite of all of these is the bit with the board game's instructions. Explicitly encouraged to read the instructions before beginning play, the brothers extract what looks to be a blank sheet of paper from the game box, giving the movie the chance to do the "strange writing magically appears on the sheet" bit. If you just watch the scene through, it doesn't look like much. But if you pause the movie, you can read what's written on the instruction sheet for yourself. And that's when you'll discover they swiped the instruction sheet from a Ouija board. You'll know, because, while the production team had been careful to remove the word "Ouija" from the first rule on the sheet, they forgot to remove it from the second.

Beyond the Gates walks the line between trying too hard and not trying hard enough. Kudos for its attempt at originality, but I doubt enough people played VCR games in the 80s to even remember them today. The movie is more unintentionally funny, or maybe deliberately corny, than it is scary. If you have fond memories of VCR games, maybe this one will spark a little nostalgia. Otherwise, it's fun to laugh at, but not good for much else.

Beyond the Gates is not rated, but contains scene of graphic violence and gore.

Robert's Score: 4/10

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