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Brooklyn Horror Film Festival Review: “BEYOND THE GATES”

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For horror fans who grew up in the ’80s and ’90s, chances are that they may have come across the weird world of VHS games. An alternative to tabletop roleplaying games as well as home console video games, VHS games would mix interactive storytelling with group-oriented challenges, akin to almost a more dramatic, produced version of a board game. With that in mind, it’s fairly insane that VHS games have not been utilized more often within the horror genre, and with Jackson Stewart’s BEYOND THE GATES, a horror-centric VHS game gets the JUMANJI treatment, except with way more blood and guts.

BEYOND THE GATES follows two estranged brothers who reunite to clean out their father’s old video rental store following his mysterious disappearance months prior. However, the brothers happen to stumble upon a mysterious VHS game entitled “Beyond The Gates” within their father’s office, and take it back home in order to explore it further. Unfortunately, the game itself lays out a much more sinister path for the brothers and their loved ones, and soon, they find much more than they bargained for.

With a truly inspired conceit behind the film, BEYOND THE GATES is more successful in its ambitious execution than not. Above all, BEYOND THE GATES is a lot of fun when its firing on all cylinders, creating a more traditionally “spooky” horror atmosphere with the occasional dip in wonderful splatter FX. Furthermore, the whole project exhibits a whole lot of heart, from the character dynamics to the execution of the horror moments, which goes a long way for a contemporary horror project. Perhaps best of all is that BEYOND THE GATES is a film that effectively posits a grounded, emotional story of family within an odd horror-fantasy scenario, quite (possibly intentionally) evocative of old Empire Films, and certainly one that this writer wouldn’t mind revisiting in potential sequels.

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Sadly, if there’s any downside to BEYOND THE GATES, it’s that the low-budget independent production can’t quite match the scope of the script from Jackson Stewart and co-scribe Stephen Scarlata. The film is fairly contained in nature, and outside of some colorful, ’80s-inspired imagery from cinematographer Brian Sowell, BEYOND THE GATES doesn’t quite offer visuals and action that match the imaginative concept that comes with the promise of an evil, interdimensional board game. That said, for the resources that the production did have, filmmaker Jackson Stewart gets a lot of mileage out of fairly little, especially when it comes to the practical FX from Josh and Sierra Russell as well as the excellent synth score from Wojciech Golczewski.

Luckily, the performances on display in BEYOND THE GATES are dynamite, with the ensemble cast largely comprised of the best and brightest working among the horror community today. As the de facto leads, Chase Williamson and Graham Skipper both offer up strong, endearing performances, convincingly pulling off the chemistry of troubled brothers. BEYOND THE GATES also showcases some solid supporting turns, from the headstrong Brea Grant to the naturalistic Matt Mercer to the charismatic saltiness of Justin Welborn and the wickedly weird Jesse Merlin. However, BEYOND THE GATES wouldn’t work as well as it does if not for a scene-stealing turn from by the inimitable, intimidating Barbara Crampton as the video witch behind the board game.

Overall, BEYOND THE GATES is a pretty strong indie horror offering, showing much potential for not only the premise but also for the filmmaker, Jackson Stewart. While the film is a bit limited by budgetary restrictions, Stewart delivers a fun fright flick with crowd-pleasing moments of carnage and a completely game ensemble cast. If you’re a fan of the recent boom of ’80s-inspired genre gems, you’ll find much madness to enjoy from BEYOND THE GATES.

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About the author
Ken W. Hanley
Ken W. Hanley is the Managing Web Editor for FANGORIA and STARLOG, as well as the former Web Editor for Diabolique Magazine and a contributing writer to YouWonCannes.com. He’s a graduate from Montclair State University, where he received an award for Excellence in Screenwriting. He’s currently working on screenplays, his debut novel "THE I IN EVIL", and various other projects, and can be followed on Twitter: @movieguyiguess.
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