Writer/director Niall Owens’ first feature Gateway, (not to be confused with The Gateway), opens with an ominous quote from the Spanish philosopher Baltasar Gracian, “Never open the door to a lesser evil, for other and greater ones invariably slink in after it.”. And with a title like Gateway, we know that doors of one kind or another are about to be opened.
Mike (Tim Creed, A Date for Mad Mary, Maze) is not in a good place right now. His sister Hannah (Fiona Hardy, Axman) was recently murdered and he was the one who found the body, something that haunts him during episodes of sleep paralysis. And after a botched job, he owes money to Cyril (Jimmy Smallhorne, Cardboard Gangsters, Dead Still), the kind of person who’ll make his body the next one somebody finds in an alley.
An opportunity presents itself in the form of an abandoned house that would be perfect to use for a grow op. There’s just the matter of the room with a door that refuses to open.
For the first half-hour, Gateway plays out like a crime film. We meet Mike and his crew and learn about their issues, both financial and personal. We also get to see them preparing to set up in their grow house. It’s slow-paced and a bit of a chore to get through the characters’ various domestic issues. Apart from the unsettling score by Tony Langlois and a brief appearance by a black-clad figure (John Ryan Howard, Beyond the Woods), there’s nothing to make you think you’re watching a genre film.
Once they get to the house, however, the mood begins to change. There’s the question of why there are no homeless people squatting in it. And then there’s the door that seems to be fussy about who it opens for. It opens for Phil (Joe Lyons, Coast Road, Jesus the Remake) who has a profound reaction to what he sees and shortly after hangs himself.
Gateway is very much a slow burn of a film with little in the way of effects. The film’s spirits are indistinguishable from flesh and blood humans. Even the gateway itself is just slabs of stone in front of a window.
Rather than visual, much of what sets the viewer on edge while watching Gateway comes from the film’s audio. Not the usual stinger to go with a jump scare, those are absent from the film as well, but something deeper. The score, as I mentioned, is unsettling. It’s more like a collection of electronic moodscapes than what we wouldn’t normally consider a film score. Or music in the traditional sense, but its deep, rumbling sound gets under your skin and instills a sense of dread.
That, combined with sound design that starts all the creaks, rattles, and other sounds a strange house can make. Then it mixes them with what sounds like voices whispering something you can’t make out. That combination adds a lot of impact to the rather familiar theme of something feeding off your own negative emotions and using them against you that Gateway has at its core.
Just what is on the other side of that gateway is never explained, there’s not even an attempt made to do so. Its construction suggests some kind of ancient monolithic construct like Newgrange, a relic of Ireland’s pagan history. How it ended up in this modern house is something the filmmakers were wise not to try to explain.
As long as you don’t mind the slow pace and lack of answers, Gateway is, once you get past the first half hour, an absorbingly creepy film. Ireland is becoming a prolific source of quality genre fare, and films like this are part of the reason why.