A ghost-filled chamber turns out to be nothing of the sort. An ancient piece of pottery turns out to hold the key to dark, untold secrets. A cobbling together of various human remains gives us the unimaginable Frankenstein! The bliss of immortality turns out to be little more than a curse in disguise. See what I mean? True Horror lies at one end of the perception spectrum – small or big – and there’s no room for middle ground. Death is not death, and life is not life: we’re all trapped somewhere in between of what is and what isn’t, so the trick of Horror is to make it relatable … a ruse that can truly accomplished by the conventional or – its converse – the unconventional.
That’s why it’ll always be that ordinary house situated on an ordinary street in the middle of an ordinary neighborhood will always hide the deepest, darkest, most dangerous secret … as is the case in writer/director Niall Owens’ Gateway. Indeed, there is a gateway within, and who would’ve thought traveling through such a benign opening might unleash untold psychological horrors all too real to imagine? That’s what awaited these characters, and it’s what await you – faithful readers – should this be a journey you’re willing to embark upon.
(NOTE: The following review will contain minor spoilers necessary solely for the discussion of plot and/or characters. If you’re the type of reader who prefers a review entirely spoiler-free, then I’d encourage you to skip down to the last few paragraphs for my final assessment. If, however, you’re accepting of a few modest hints at ‘things to come,’ then read on …)
From the film’s IMDB.com citation:
“In an ordinary abandoned house – on what could be your ordinary street – a gang of desperate criminals have found something – or has it found them?”
While it’s been said that good things come to those who wait, I’ll be honest in saying that Gateway’s opening 30 minutes truly tested my patience.
I’m a fan of the slow burn … well, so long as I’m assured something good will come from it. Still, the opening segments of Owens’ Gateway were more than a bit confusing. Some of this is owed to the narrative construction – there are long sequences wherein a man in bed simply stares at the screen only for a cutaway shot of a young girl in obvious distress. Are they related? Did he do something to her? Or is she angry over something he didn’t do? Answers aren’t forthcoming, and the true import of those shots – which reoccur throughout the picture – isn’t fully known until the final reel. So, yes, that’s the textbook definition of a slow burn, though I’m not sure it all had to unspool this way.
As you can imagine – or as happens in films involving empty homes – all is not well within these four walls: there’s a room with a door that – for whatever reason – just won’t open until the moment is right. Inside, there’s a mystical gateway – one that’s never explained because that would deny the magic. The fact of its existence is what matters when dealing with the supernatural, and stepping through the arch opens up a world of unvarnished truths powerful enough to make the traveler do something very dangerous upon return.
Gateway’s gimmick fully relies on the audience’s willingness to both suspend disbelief and not go looking for answers to the how’s and why’s of the portal. In essence, it doesn’t really matter because Owens’ script isn’t so much about retribution and/or revenge, though it arguably points strongly in that direction on more than a single occasion. Payback is only natural in a world of criminals – in which each of these players reside – so, as long as you’re buckled in for that reality, the unreal is tenable. This isn’t so much a ‘ghost story’ with purpose as it is just a ‘ghost story.’ On that level, Gateway opens the right doors.
Gateway (2021) was produced by Pic Du Jer Productions. The film is presently available on major digital platforms for streaming purposes. As for the technical specifications? Again, I am no trained video expert, but I found the flick to have provided some quality sights and sounds from start-to-finish; there are a few places where the audio is a bit augmented for scare purposes, so don’t be alarmed … or do be alarmed as that’s probably the filmmaker’s intent!
This is a bare bones affair, and it's very efficient on that level. Like The Twilight Zone, The Outer Limits, and even Night Gallery did long before, Gateway posits a unique ‘what if’ scenario – what if a gateway could unveil the truth behind your darkest fears – and then allows its participants to play it all out as a consequence. How or why these spectral spirits and entities are drawn to this location isn’t important. What matters is that they have been, and they’re about to put this gang of would-be criminals on their hardest task yet: survival.
In the interests of fairness, I’m pleased to disclose that the fine folks at Dark Sky Films provided me with complimentary streaming access to Gateway (2021) for the expressed purposes of completing this review; and their contribution to me in no way, shape, or form influenced my opinion of it.