Witnessing the recent success of Netflix’s Stranger Things and features like Cold In July, The Guest and Turbo Kid, it’s clear we’re in the midst of a nostalgia boom in genre cinema. Although the action takes place in a vaguely contemporary setting, the entertaining (if slightly laboured) Beyond the Gates is yet another addition to this growing list. In fact, given the subject matter and narrative jumping off point, it could be argued that the film is the most overt representation of the video shop era yet. Opening with a brief flashback scene, we watch a family celebrate as the fruit of their father’s labour – an independently-run specialist tape rental-cum-cinematic curio store – finally comes to fruition.
Moving forward a couple of decades later and the two young brothers glimpsed at previously have now grown up and grown apart. They awkwardly reunite to begin the long and arduous task of dismantling their missing dad’s now defunct analogue business. The eldest, Gordon (Graham Skipper) is settled down with a loving girlfriend (Brea Grant) while his wayward younger sibling, John (Chase Williamson) is a couch-hopping semi-vagrant. The two are soon forced to put aside their differences when they accidently uncover the titular VHS board game, which appears somehow to be linked to their father’s mysterious disappearance. Guided by an omnipresent female temptress within the accompanying video (played with camp relish by genre favourite Barbara Crampton) the trio must venture through the game’s deadly stages to uncover the truth.
Unfortunately, what looks due to budgetary restraints, the film sometimes struggles to deliver on this fun premise (the undercooked and uninspired finale is a symptom of this) and the plodding, stop-start pacing does occasionally grate as you’re heavily anticipating the next throw of the dice.
It’s still an amiable enough endeavour though, filled with likable and sincere performances (stand out is future star-in-the-making Williamson) which helps compensate for the sweet time it takes to get to the actual game-playing. It even succeeds in injecting a meaningful subtext around overcoming hereditary addiction amongst the more frivolous and goofy content.
Beyond the Gates doesn’t do anything particularly new or innovative with the material it slavishly pays homage to (namely the work of low-budget horror/fantasy merchant Charles Band and his company Full Moon Features) but perhaps this is precisely what discerning fans expect and desire.