BEYOND THE GATES. A must-see horror movie for VHS enthusiasts
Do you remember when Calvin Harris was still enjoyable, and in his hit Acceptable in the 80’s, he convinced us that “it was desirable in the 1980s, it was desirable back then”? Time has come full circle, and today we desire the same things we did three decades ago. Beyond the Gates is yet another example of this.
The return to the 1980s, especially in the realm of Z-class horror, is becoming increasingly prominent year by year. A turning point was the series Stranger Things, which, shortly after its premiere, became one of the hottest topics on the internet. Nostalgia for the VHS era was rekindled, and who knows, perhaps Funai Electric made a mistake by discontinuing VCR production in July 2016. The commercial success didn’t deter underground creators from pursuing their projects. However, before you reach for Beyond the Gates in the hope of discovering a new Eleven, it’s necessary to present some numbers. A season of Stranger Things cost $220,000, which is roughly $27,500,000 per episode. Jackson Stewart’s film, on the other hand, had a budget of just $3 million, was shot in only two locations, and its soundtrack wasn’t composed by the wildly popular S U R V I V E, but by a composer from Poland. So, if you expect the purple-blue cover (apparently a favorite color scheme of creators paying homage to the 1980s) to guarantee audiovisual splendor, you might be disappointed. However, remember that the vast majority of the content languishing on video rental store shelves also had little in common with the production level of Netflix.
Beyond the Gates opens with some excellent shots from inside a VCR playing a VHS cassette, accompanied by synthwave beats by Wojciech Golczewski. Most likely, not many people are familiar with this name. The producer from Poznań has previously worked on extremely niche projects such as We Are Still Here and Late Phases, which were original enough to reach the awareness of people beyond the narrow circle of kitsch fans. Golczewski also has two solo albums (or rather cassettes) to his name, which he released this year. If John Carpenter plays in your heart, you should definitely look for him on Spotify. Three minutes are enough to transport the viewer back in time. It’s like an injection of the 1980s containing extracts of all the characteristic elements of that era. It’s no wonder that expectations immediately soar, but not everyone will be satisfied when the end credits roll.
A particular type of love for VHS tapes is common in the horror world, but perhaps few remember the existence of video board games. In the United States, it was never a strong branch of the entertainment industry, and in Poland, it hardly existed at all. The game involved commands being issued to the viewer/player from the screen, which they then had to apply to the board. In other words, someone took the trouble to film instructions for the game, and it’s not surprising that this type of product failed. Jackson Stewart, however, gave them a second chance by creating a combination of The Ring with Jumanji, supported by satisfying, non-CGI elements of gore (created by Josh and Sierra Russell, who had previously showcased their talents in the excellent Southbound). What’s more, he cast one of the former icons of Z-class cinema – Barbara Crampton – as Sadako. Old-school fans know her from Re-Animator and Chopping Mall, while contemporary viewers may recognize her from You’re Next and The Lords of Salem. Her task isn’t easy – she plays almost exclusively through facial expressions – but even with such limited means of expression, she convincingly creates a morally ambiguous character. Thanks to her, it’s easier to overlook the presence of mid-tier actors from the younger generation who gained “fame” through roles in Sharktopus, Cowboys vs. Dinosaurs, Airplane vs. Volcano, or Final Destination 4.
The pacing of Beyond the Gates has one significant drawback and one very important advantage. The pace of events is agonizingly slow, and transitions from long, talky scenes to violent, bloody murders and back again are so uneven that a momentary lapse of attention can cause you to completely lose track of what’s happening. However, this may mainly bother the lay audience. Horror enthusiasts won’t feel discomfort, especially because the director didn’t resort to using crude jump scares to frighten the audience. I’ve mentioned this many times before, but any opportunity is a good one to remind you – nothing ruins the atmosphere of a film like a jump scare, which operates solely on a motoric level, leaving no trace of horror in the psyche. Beyond the Gates may not be a film to make you scared, but it does have a coherent, fascinating atmosphere of horror.
Jackson Stewart did a solid job, once again resurrecting the spirit of the 1980s. His vision is somewhat elitist because apart from VHS fanatics (of which he must be one himself), very few will find something truly engaging and unique in these eighty-four minutes. A must-see for VHS enthusiasts.