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Review: BEYOND THE GATES (2016)

There have been a lot of films trying to recapture the feel of the old VHS era horror films, but none has been more explicit about it than BEYOND THE GATES, the debut film from Jackson Stuart. Not only does it involve a missing and presumed dead proprietor of a video store, it revolves around one of those hybrid VHS board games that were briefly popular during the video boom. It’s as much about VHS horror as it is a recreation of it.

Estranged brothers Gordon (Graham Skipper ALL THE CREATURES WERE STIRRING, THE MIND’S EYE) and John (Chase Williamson, SEQUENCE BREAK, FETISH FACTORY) are brought back together after the disappearance and presumed death of their father. While boxing up the contents of his once-thriving video store, they come across Beyond the Gates, a game he was apparently playing before he disappeared.

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Curious, the brothers along with Gordon’s girlfriend Margot (Brea Grant DEAD NIGHT, BAD APPLES) decide to play it. In truly creepy fashion, it seems the game’s hostess Evelyn (Barbara Crampton REANIMATOR, PUPPET MASTER: THE LITTLEST REICH) is speaking directly to them about their missing father. When the game’s events start having a fatal effect on those around them, it’s obvious she’s playing for keeps.

BEYOND THE GATES is, first and foremost, a fun film and secondly a nostalgic one, and that’s a distinction that matters. This would have been a good film no matter what the cursed item was. The retro elements just enhance the fun. It isn’t the main source of the fun, something too many of these films gets wrong. They rely on the nostalgia element to carry the film, with everything else secondary. They’re hoping it will save a sub-par product. By crafting a story with good interplay between the characters, interesting plot points and some wonderfully splattery effects, Stuart and co-writer Stephen Scarlata have made sure the film can stand on its own. They give it appeal to those who don’t have nostalgia for the VHS era.

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During its festival run, BEYOND THE GATES was frequently tagged as a horror version of the Robin Williams film JUMANJI. That is a fairly apt description in tone as well as in plot. This isn’t the most intense horror film you’ll see all year. It is a fun roller coaster ride of thrills and jump scares

This is an enjoyable film that had me recalling the days of video rental stores. And many of the straight-to video films I rented from them. You can’t get BEYOND THE GATES at Blockbuster. But you can get it on DVD, streaming and VOD via IFC Midnight.

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