If the concept of “a horror Jumanji” doesn’t immediately grab you, then rest assured that there’s plenty to love about Beyond The Gates beyond its high concept. The feature debut from Jackson Stewart has buckets of 80s nostalgia, but there’s a well-written and well-acted family drama taking place alongside the schlocky fun.
Genre staples Graham Skipper (Almost Human, The Mind’s Eye) and Chase Williamson (John Dies At The End, The Guest) play Gordon and John, two semi-estranged brothers who reunite to clear out their dad’s video store after he goes missing. When they find VHS adventure game Beyond The Gates in his office, the two decide to play, and unleash a spirit that won’t stop until it’s game over.
There’s something immediately endearing about Beyond The Gates, a heartfelt love-letter to a pretty niche area of interest that calls on influences as varied as Stuart Gordon, Joe Dante and yes, Jumanji. Skipper and Williamson are great as the two brothers whose differences don’t really mask a very obvious affection. Their early scenes together are particularly good, as the awkwardness of a long time apart begins to crumble. There’s a strong performance from Brea Grant as Gordon’s supportive, but not submissive, partner Margot, and we’d be at fault if we didn’t mention Jesse Merlin’s creepy vintage shop owner.
Stewart uses his big effects moments sparingly (although they’re highly effective and decidedly explosive when they arrive) instead going for an ever-growing air of creepiness. He’s helped by a wonderful turn from Barbara Crampton as the game’s eerie mistress and an on-point soundtrack by Wojciech Golczewski.
Those hoping for something a little showier may be disappointed by how much of the action is kept on our side of the gates, but the characters are just as important as the neon fog and voodoo dolls. This is a highly entertaining adventure horror that plays out like Dante’s The Hole for grown-ups (and we mean that as a compliment). We’re very excited to see what Stewart does next.