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Review: PORTAL (2019)

A ghost hunting show that’s having equally bad luck hunting ghosts and ratings. That’s been the start for any number of movies, recent examples being Deadtectives and Investigation 13. Director Dean Alito (The McPherson Tape, Lizzie Borden Had an Axe) and co-writer Peter Dukes (Escape Room) use this familiar jumping-off point for their film Portal. It’s not the most original film you’ll see this year or even this month. But it is at least a bit of a change of pace.

Steve (Ryan Merriman, Final Destination 3, The Jurassic Games) is the lead investigator for the show Ghost Seekers. He’s adamant that everything they record is real. No special effects, no re-enactments, nothing faked. That has led to a serious lack of the kind of spectacular footage viewers want. And a corresponding lack of ratings. In desperation, he bribes the scout for another show for a truly haunted house.

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What he gets is the Dalva House where a man went insane and killed his entire family. Except for his youngest daughter, who killed him. How bad is its reputation? Despite a backstory like that, nobody wants to use it as a location. So Steve, photographer Jen (Najarra Townsend, Contracted, Dementia: Part II), tech Mason (Myk Watford), cameraman Raz (Reinaldo Zavarce) and producer Cris (Jamie Tisdale, The Devil’s Candy) decide to be the first.

They don’t find any ghosts, but they do find a box with the instructions for a ritual. Of course, they perform it. They still don’t conjure up any spirits, but they do open a portal that allows demons to enter our world.

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The swerve into Evil Dead territory makes a nice change from the usual ghosts and spirits these films give us. The first half of Portal actually feels like a fairly decent ghost film. We get the odd shadows, the things half-glimpsed in the background, etc. Then a rather unexpected act sends things into another direction.

An appearance in the last act by Heather Langenkamp (A Nightmare On Elm Street, Hellraiser: Judgment) as the surviving daughter helps put the last pieces into place. It also gives Portal an unusually poignant ending. Another familiar face, Yan Birch (The People Under The Stairs, Eternal Code) as her adoptive brother. This does bring in a cliché Native American shaman angle. But he and Heather play off each other so well it’s worth dealing with.

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An interesting side note, Portal is the first production from the folks at HorrorHound. Apparently, a magazine, convention, and website weren’t enough for them. This is a solid, if safe, debut for them. Hopefully, they’ll take a few risks with future films.

Portal is available on streaming platforms via Vertical Entertainment. You can check its website for updates.

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