Overview: Two brothers find a horror board game that seems a little bit too real. Destroy All Entertainment; 2016; Rated R; 84 minutes.
VCR Games: In England in the ‘90s, there was a huge trend for video board games. The premise was that along with the usual dice, pieces, and board, the game came with a video cassette that you played the game against. The most popular was a game called Atmosfear (Nightmare in the US) where players were pitted against a hooded Gatekeeper who scared you, shouted at you, and insulted you as you travelled around the board trying to gather keys to defeat him. He gave you an hour to play the game and a ticking clock appeared on your TV whenever the Gatekeeper wasn’t there. The day after I played the game for the first time I woke up with a headache and took the day off school. A rumour then started that I had been so scared of the game that I was too frightened to come to school. In order to get in front of the story I became obsessed with Atmosfear and within a few weeks the rumours were gone and I prided myself on being a maven for the series. Eventually, sales dropped off and the games and expansion packs stopped being made, but now and then as a grown up I remember the games and find other people of my generation were obsessed with them, too. The fact that Beyond the Gates is based around one of these games made this one of my most anticipated movies, and the fact that it isn’t very good really hit me hard.
Not Playing the Game: Beyond the Gates is the story of two estranged brothers who are brought together when their father vanishes and they need to deal with his estate. While they do this they stumble upon a VCR game, Beyond the Gates, which they begin to play and find it knows something about their father’s disappearance. Unfortunately, this movie is a bit of a bait and switch. It promises to be a sort of horror themed Jumanji and yet so much of the movie is spent with people not playing the game, talking about not playing the game, and doing anything but play the game. The movie keeps looking like it’s about to get into some game action and then a character will go to bed, or throw the board in the trash, or the scene will just cut to the next day.
Bright Spots: There are some fantastically gory sequences that veer into old school Peter Jackson territory with outrageous bloodletting, and Jesse Merlin’s shopkeeper character adds some surreal comedy to the proceedings. The premise of the movie is good and yet perhaps its budgetary concerns or some other factor that keeps the game in the background for the sake of nighttime scares and characterisation that seems to cul-de-sac rather than paying off.
Overall: I think my disappointment in Beyond the Gates movie is compounded by my love of VCR games. It is well made and shows talent but is slow and pondering for a movie that is only eighty four minutes long. There are definitely legs to the premise but perhaps more money and a sharper focus is needed.
Featured Image: Destroy All Entertainment