Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Beyond the Gates (2016)

Bob Hardesty had a thing for VHS.  His never really accepted DVD, even though he ran a video-rental store.  After Bob’s disappearance, it’s up to his two sons, Gordon and John, to pack everything up and presumably do something with all of the VHS tapes.  Gordon has brought with him his girlfriend, Margot.  While cleaning out the store, the two brothers get to talking.  It’s been a while since they’ve seen each other, as Gordon left town while John stuck around.  They may have grown apart, but they both remember being in the store as children.  One thing leads to another and they find a VHS game, which is like a board game with a video to go along with it.

It seems innocuous enough.  There’s room for four players, although it‘s just John, Gordon and Margot.  They’re supposed to get instructions on game play from the video, which is just the head of a woman named Evelyn.  It seems somewhat boring at first, but gets somewhat scary when Evelyn seems to know stuff that’s a little too particular.  They eventually come to realize that Bob may be trapped inside the game.

The game is played by collecting several keys.  Each mission to do so involves a gruesome choice, usually revolving around having to kill someone.  The first one is somewhat innocuous.  They have to get a key out of a small doll.  What they don’t realize is that it’s connected to John’s friend, Hank.  What they do to the doll also happens to Hank, leading to a rather unusual scene in a bar. 

John, Gordon and Margot are conflicted.  On the one hand, they’re smart enough to want nothing to do with the game.  On the other hand, they want to get Bob out of the game, if that’s at all possible.  They visit the store where Bob got the game, only to find out that they are, in fact, obligated to finish the game once they’ve started.  They even try throwing the game away, only to have it reappear.

They eventually go through with the game, realizing that the alternatives aren’t that desirable.  They end up in an alternate dimension where they have to face off against the spirits of Bob, Hank and another character.  Winning gets them back to their own dimension, where they realize that they may have saved Bob’s soul, if not his body.  Gordon and Margot leave shortly after, with John and Gordon now more friendly towards each other than before.

This isn’t exactly what I’d consider a horror movie.  It does have some scary/grim moments, but the movie doesn’t seem to play it up like I’d expect.  It’s almost like the movie is trying to be a satire of horror movies.  It’s somewhere between a serious movie and a movie that’s playing towards nostalgia.  The entire aspect of Bob Hardesty sticking by VHS would tend to reinforce that.

It’s not so much that I could see the stuff coming.  It’s more that I had to wonder why.  For instance, Gordon has odd experiences at 3:13 each night.  It’s never explained why that particular time.  Are we to assume that the 13 is some sort of bad-luck omen?  Even if that’s true, why 3:13?  Why not 5:13 or 12:13?

My biggest complaint was the acting, which seemed to be very subdued.  Even in tense scenes, it seemed overly calm.  It was like everyone was required to be on sleeping pills during filming.  I wonder if this was intended.  Everything about the movie makes it a solid B-movie.  I do think there was some satirical/nostalgic intent in making this.

I would probably avoid showing it to children for several reasons.  First off, there are some things that might scare children, such as people being killed.  I also think that the target audience here may be people in their 40s.  Specifically, it seems like it was meant for people who grew up in the 80s and 90s and would have had some concept of VHS and horror movies of the time.

It almost looks like it could serve as a backdoor pilot.  It’s mentioned that the game always manages to find its way back to the shop where it was purchased.  If done properly, I could see this being something along the lines of Friday the 13th: The Series.  You could have the game make its way to a new group each week and exploring some new issue.  Then again, some things are best left alone.

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