Beyond the Gates full movie review - a little bit like Jumanji for adults, with magic and murder
The setting is two brothers cleaning out their family's video (as in VHS) rental store because their father has been missing for seven months and is presumed dead - or just fled without any intention of returning. One brother lives in the town, but isn't doing very well, the other has returned with his girlfriend, and he's the "responsible" one with a college degree and a mortgage. They stumble on a video/board game which was a real thing, back in the day, and determine it was the last thing their father watched. Hoping it gives a clue to where their father went, they watch it and get pulled into the supernatural elements of the story.
The look and feel of the movie is 80's VHS horror. I was a teenager in the 80's and remember combing the shelves at our local video rental store. There were a lot of straight-to-video horror movies that we'd see there and nowhere else. Some were bad and others were just terrible! So, this movie felt a little like one of those ... an oddball, made-for-VHS horror movie. The irony that it included a video rental store in it and a VHS based horror board game, was just laying it on thick. In any case, the movie played out a little bit like Jumanji for adults, with magic and murder.
I thought the setting, music, theme, and acting were all fine. The director and cast knew what they were aiming for and did a fine job. My problem with the movie is that it never felt like there were real stakes. Several characters get killed in bloody, violent ways - but they weren't characters that we really got to know or care about. One was portrayed as a jerk who probably deserved what he got, but even then, there was no feeling of righteous justice because we barely even knew him. (And one line of dialog implies that a completely innocent woman was blamed for his murder!) When the movie finally got around to putting one of the characters we did care about in jeopardy, it then immediately pulled it's punch and that character was really OK, too.
The magic game, "Beyond the Gates!", was supposed to be so fiendish and difficult that no one ever successfully "won" (i.e. made it back with their soul, or something to that effect). Yet, when we see the characters get through it, it didn't look that difficult at all. Where was the feeling of struggle or risk or real danger?
OK, if I were going to fix the story, how would I do it? Make the "players" make moral choices. Eventually, make them choose who they could bring back from beyond the gates, so that the decision would hurt and not deciding would doom them all. This way, there would be actual consequences and a moral penalty.
I noticed that someone was listed in the credits for designing the game, but as someone who's played board, card, and tabletop RPG's for decades, this was less a game and more a parody of one. The rules are never explained, and what they did show was not done consistently; the cards didn't even make sense. For example, the dice are only ever rolled once, and not by the current player. The three little skulls are supposed to be the player's pieces, but in one scene, the gray skull seems to be a stand-in for a zombie that comes out of the gate, instead of the player who declared "I'm gray!" in a previous scene. There were three rune cards which were never flipped over or used in any way. There were four tarot like cards, but they didn't come from a deck, were the only ones of their kind in the box, and seemed to specifically look like characters in the movie. Fine, but turning them over or not made no difference, and the order they were turned over didn't seem to matter, either. Finally, of all of the "locations" on the game board, only two are ever used and there didn't seem to be any obvious way for the pieces to move between them, other than just plunking the piece down where you wanted.
In other words, this was a board game designed by someone who seems to have never seen or played a board game. That doesn't spoil the movie in any way, it was just an annoyance that not only did the "game" not make any sense, but someone was actually listed in the credits for having "designed" it!