Goon Review: Beyond the Gates (2016)

(HEARETH YE, HEARETH YE: THIS POST WAS SUBMITTED BY MR. ANDREW “GOON” PETERS. ALL OPINIONS CONTAINED THEREIN BELONGETH TO HE, AS I, YOUR HO-STESS, LOVE THE SHIT OUT OF THIS FILM..Opinions be-eth like aresholes, though, so let’s see what Mr. Peters has to say…even if he’s, like, sooooooooo wrong. 😉 xoxo)

Who remembers VHS board games, huh? I sure do. They were short in time, obviously because of the VHS run times, where players were often given tasks or challenges to complete or face the consequences. These used to give me so much anxiety as you and your friends scrambled frantically, pitted against each other in a race against the clock, collecting items along the way. My first exposure to these was Nightmare which was hosted against a hooded Emperor Palpatine knockoff called The Gatekeeper. He would openly mock you and scream at you, scaring the piss out of you unless you weren’t the one being yelled at in which case, then it was hilarious. As time progressed, his voice morphed and he looked more decrepit, giving the game a very tense and scary atmosphere. Hey, Atmosphere was the name of sequel (yes, even board games had sequels), but I don’t remember that one nearly as much. By that time, my sister had been playing Party Mania, Mall Madness and my personal favorite, Dream Phone. What can I say, I like VHS board games. Besides, seeing my sister get angry when I was winning the cute boys rather than her was priceless. I still have all these games, but unfortunately I don’t get to play them as much, mostly because nobody else wants to. On the rare occasion whenever I have company and I present it to them, I have to take it out of my cabinet that creaks open and blow the dust off of it like I’m uncovering a relic from another time.

Beyond the Gates is an indie film that tries to capture that magic, but ends up more using VHS rentals and VHS board games as side notes in a family drama. When I first heard about the premise of the film and saw the neon pink and blue artwork I thought that this is the kind of movie for me! Maybe it was because I was expecting something else, something that would please my nostalgic sense for the VHS days or maybe my expectations were too high. I went in thinking I was going to get a playful movie (maybe in the vein of something like Monster Squad) with two goofball brothers puttering about a video store, but instead what I got was an indie melodrama with low key performances and misplaced gore. It definitely wasn’t what I expected and not for the better.

Gordon and John, two estranged brothers played by Graham Skipper and Chase Williamson, reunite to clear out their father’s VHS store after he’s been missing for over half a year. Luckily for the plot, their father is a drunk who disappears from time to time when he’s going on a bender. Rather than have it be a mystery, something the film could have really been creative with in exploring, they decide to go with the ‘drunken dad that vanishes occasionally’ trope to move things along and not to raise any questions. That’s only one of the few missed opportunities in the beginning. For starters, I know the brothers are supposed to be estranged, but this comes off like they have never met before. The interaction between the two is beyond weird and more off putting, like trying to affectionately hug a total stranger. In fact, this is sealed when they share a more than awkward hug. The next thing is the video store itself is barely explored. You could have walls of VHS for the sharp eyed nostalgia hunters while the brothers discuss odd movies and their experiences with them, something I’m sure the targeted audience could relate to, but it’s all merely looked over as the two mumble their problems vaguely, nearly sleepwalking through their performances, although to be fair, Chase Williamson seems like he’s trying.

Things change when the two uncover a VHS board game called Beyond the Gates. Curious, they pop in the time and right away something seems off. The still incredibly sexy Barbara Crampton is the host of this game, trying to give a sensual, yet mysterious performance that comes across as dull, inviting the players to take a change if they so dare. A flickering screen causes them headaches and they shut the tape off, but John decides he wants to hang onto it. The design of the game itself was pretty cool, looking like it was scratched together with cheap art pens. It really reminded me of all my folders and notebooks in high school after I would draw all over them. But enough of something that could be interesting, let’s get back to some more cliched drama as the two head home. Gordon has his girlfriend Margot who supports him in a loving way and actually tries to be there for him, despite his past demons. His past demons though, not that interesting seeing as he used to be a heavy drinker. It’s mentioned a few times or hinted at, but the film never actually does anything with this. John, on the other hand, has his friend Hank who is somewhat of a date rapist scumbag simply because he was there for him when his dad bailed.

This is where the film actually comes through in terms of character development as you really see how John needed Gordon. Their mom died when they were younger, so their dad resorted to drinking and that’s when the divide began to happen between the two. John eagerly wants to be close to his brother again, who seems to have nearly no interest (at first). You also get the feeling he clearly doesn’t like Hank and doesn’t want to be around him, but Hank has been by his side when his brother wasn’t, so it’s almost like he’s his friend out of disappointment or anger. I have to really give Chase Williamson credit here for bringing a really decent performance.

Curious once again, they decide to play the board game and this is when the gears start turning a little quicker. Slowly, the trio realizes the game is something more sinister as darker events take place, like a few localized deaths. Realizing what is happening, it’s revealed to them that their father disappeared from playing the game and in order to save his soul, they must complete the game… which nobody has ever done. Now, once they start playing the game, you’d figure they would be trapped playing it until it’s complete, but you’d be wrong. At least here. They occasionally stop to have dinner or even go to bed and honestly, it really destroys the pacing and tension it was creating. The stake were becoming higher and really interesting and creepy things were going on, but hey, people gotta have a family dinner after all or run errands. It doesn’t seem like they are in any hurry to uncover their father’s fate or even save his soul.

Beyond the Gates tries to capture the whimsy of growing up in the ‘90s, perhaps playing in your board games in your basement or perhaps using your imagination to pretend you are in a more wizardly world, but ultimately fails. It’s too bogged down in trying to be emotionally deep and frightening instead of actually being either. It really tries to bring some real emotion to the screen through the tragedy of the character’s’ history, but spends too much time beating a dead horse of a cliche leaving it feeling uninteresting for the most part. To the movie’s credit, it does try and it’s not like it’s a total abject failure in those aspects, it’s just that it spends too much time on them when it should be doing something else. Like, exploring the world of the board game, for example. I did like the aesthetic of the game and it did somewhat remind me of the games I used to play and while Barbara Crampton does give her dialogue a sultry tone, she isn’t given anything else to do aside from cackle here and there. I figured she would have broken the fourth wall occasionally to taunt the brothers, much like The Gatekeeper from Nightmare. Speaking of that, one thing I did like is much like how The Gatekeeper progressively becomes slightly more decrepit looking through Nightmare’s playtime, Barbara Crampton’s eyes are blackened more and more. I actually didn’t notice at first and I thought it was a nice subtle approach to low budget solution to that. They also used neon lighting at times and a gate that appears in their basement that seemingly goes into a void of blackness, which is extremely moody and does capture a wild imagination of not knowing what to expect next. Unfortunately, those moments don’t happen too often.

Knowing that their had to be consequences to playing the game, the movie adds in some gore which really feels misplaced in a movie like this. The same goes for the cursing and I know it sounds peculiar for a grown adult to be complaining about gore and swearing, but it doesn’t feel like it should belong here. If anything, it takes you out of the world the movie is desperately trying to create. Seeing as it’s trying to exploit your nostalgia, you figure it would want to appeal to the more childlike senses you have. Aside from being bogged down in a lot of drama, you then throw in a mixed bag of mature themes, so the kid in me feels thrown off. I don’t know, maybe I’m being extremely naive, but I feel like Beyond the Gates could have benefitted from being a little more tongue in cheek, perhaps a little more playful. It wants to appeal to your childhood memories, so I feel like it should have acted perhaps a little more childish, maybe a Monster Squad or Goonies type of feel as these guys played this board game. I dunno, it really feels like a missed opportunity.

The Blu-ray from Scream Factory, in a partnership with IFC Midnight, does have quite a few extra features if you feel so inclined to check them out. If audio commentaries are your thing, Beyond the Gates has four of them. Seems a bit much for a movie that most people are probably only going to watch once and may not be interested in what could be said about it. I know, that sounded mean, but honestly I do find this kind of thing very cool and adds value to the price. There’s also a look at some behind the scenes, a few deleted scenes as well as a premiere Q & A. A short film called Sex Boss is included, which I didn’t check out, but my favorite by far was the retro commercial for the board game itself, Beyond the Gates. Now, this is the spirit the rest of the film should have been in tone with, dammit.

While I don’t hate Beyond the Gates, I don’t necessarily like it either. I wouldn’t mind watching it again and hopefully upon a second viewing, I won’t be seeing the things I felt it should have been, but maybe appreciate it more for what is. However, what it is feels more like a better concept than it was a movie.

  • I think the marketing people tried to ride the 80s nostalgia wave for something that I’m sure was a 90s thing but the 90s aren’t near as cool as the 80s. If this didn’t have Barbara Crampton in it I probably would have given it a miss. I liked it but I did feel it was constrained by budget and could have been much bolder. Perhaps in a sequel.