Enter a Gateway (CFF) Into Dark, Supernatural Horror
First Non-Festival Release: July 15, 2022 (Digital/Streaming Platforms)
Director: Niall Owens
Writer: Niall Owens
Runtime: 80 Minutes
Starring: Tim Creed, Fiona Hardy, Jimmy Smallhorne
Where to Watch: Check out where to find it here
This film’s review was written after its screening at the Chattanooga Film Festival in 2022.
Small town gang leader Mike (Tim Creed) is in a bind. He owes a large sum of money to Cyril (Jimmy Smallhorne) who is strongarming him into ramping up his cannabis sales. Mike is still reeling from the death of his sister Hannah (Fiona Hardy) but decides that it is necessary to keep himself and his fellow gang members alive. They decide to set up shop in an abandoned house that some of the younger members know is vacant due to their late-night smoke sessions. Once inside, they find themselves in a curious dilemma after one of their members dies by suicide all the while more puzzling happenings begin to haunt the crew.
A suitably fine paranormal venture, Gateway is sufficiently well-done indie horror fare that is only set back by its budget constraints.
I applaud the film for taking an interesting approach to the haunted house subgenre. The overwhelming majority of the film takes place in daylight, the antagonist is subtly introduced and gradually explained through visual storytelling alone, and the majority of the horror sequences operate in extreme dream logic. It is a fascinating mixture of horror elements that rarely combine and the only disappointment is that it doesn’t quite pack as big a punch as it should in the end.
Favoring a slow burn approach and disquieting flavor of horror, Gateway takes far too long to get to the point. The ideas behind the film are frightening enough but the escalation is blunted throughout the film, making the overall potential feel unrealized. This even extends to its interactions between characters. Unresolved issues and harsh sentiments are exchanged, but it never feels like anything comes to the short journeys taken in the dilapidated home. The history behind the home goes unexplained too, which means that the world building relies solely on their actions.
The performances are quite good from the cast. Everyone does a remarkable job of convincing the audience that something truly awful is happening in the abandoned home. Timmy Creed centers the film emotionally with his portrayal of Mike who always seems to be on the verge of breaking down. Still traumatized from the sudden death of his sister, he is given the tough job of selling a quiet sort of grief and longing for better times. This helps propel Mike beyond the common criminal archetype he could easily occupy in a film less intentional than Gateway. Still, the remaining cast are all low level criminals without much development beyond Mike and Joe (Kevin Barry), who are fleshed out a bit more to add more depth to the film.
It's not that Gateway is a bad film, it’s just not a particularly enthralling one. A few nice camera tricks are employed to create the illusion of the supernatural in the well-lit home. This is best exemplified whenever a character crosses beyond the veil in the locked room. The concept itself is intriguing and leaves plenty of room for exploration, both physically in the house and metaphorically for its properties. There’s depth to Gateway, but it makes it difficult for audiences to care about it. For an indie film, it hits the mark enough to where it still can appeal to dedicated cinephiles.
With the high number of slow-burn low budget horrors diluting the market, films like Gateway keep getting produced. Sure, the production values are solid, and the performances ground the film, but it still feels half-realized in the end. Its engaging premise is bogged down by the first 45 minutes of backstory that only halfway matters in the end. Its commitment to slow building tension is undermined by its shaky execution. The danger never feels real which destroys any tension the film could hope to build. More wasted potential than anything, Gateway will likely be a solid opening for fans of low fi productions and supernatural affairs.
Overall Score? 5/10