Gateway Movie Review
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I do enjoy Irish horror, so when Gateway (2022) was offered to me for review, I wasn’t passing it up.
Gateway tells the tale of roughnecks scouting an abandoned home for their latest criminal enterprise and the terrifying fruits of their existence that wait inside.
Mike (Timmy Creed) owes some very bad men a lot of money. If he can’t come up with what he owes, they’ll make a gruesome example out of his body parts and he’d like to avoid that. He’s also raw from the recent death of his sister, which makes every interaction a potential tinderbox of violent emotion. A tip leads him to an abandoned house that seems perfect for what he can turn over in a short amount of time. With a little fixing up, he and his mates can begin a drug operation right away and save his face and fingers from certain destruction.
His partners, Joe (Kevin Barry), Eddie (Laurence Ubong Williams), Phil (Joe Lyons) are eager to assist and make a little cash but are also worried that Mike’s head isn’t in the game. This is a delicate operation requiring finesse and skill, and no one can afford a distraction. It doesn’t help that each man has secrets of his own so terrible they can’t even share among themselves, but the House knows. A pergola appears in one locked upstairs room, offering a slice of joy or a chance to relive a missing chunk of their misspent lives. It draws them in one by one, making each both the hero and the unrepentant villain of their own horror story. It is a Venus Flytrap of malice, grief, and revenge, an infinity mirror where the depths of violence go as deep as the eye can see.
Part haunted house, part eldritch horror (basically the signpost at the foot of my driveway), Gateway on the surface is a crime drama about mistrust, lies, and eventual comeuppance. Still, it’s an Irish horror film, so the horror is eventually laid bare like the carefully flayed skin of a corpse, nearly bloodless but no less unsettling. Unlike many of its American contemporaries, Gateway also eschews comedy and camp for gritty realism, looking for its anti-heroes in characters we’d sooner cross the street than make eye contact with. Herding in ever-tighter circles is a mysterious couple (John Ryan Howard and Rosie O’Regan) who offer cryptic messages and tributes, but to what is the mystery.
This is not a film where horror happens after dark – Gateway is a full daylight production. Sunlit rooms with bright wallpaper, plastic carefully laid upon the floor to prevent tracking, and open windows are not the provenance of creeping dread, but director Niall Owens cranks the tension ever higher before the sun even sets. Lingering shots of sadness, guilt, and rage almost elevate to arthouse-level, but I’m glad it doesn’t quite reach. It’s a drama with terror at the edges and horror in the center, but it never tries to be more than the sum of its parts, and that’s why it works so effectively.
To say the pace is deliberate would be an understatement, as aside from flashes of Mike’s grief, the first third of Gateway could be mistaken for any cable crime drama, but it’s still a compelling watch. I came for the horror, but I was invested in these men who could barely stand each other and had every slice of discomfort owed them. Rather than thin caricatures of criminals, Mike, Eddie, Joe, and Phil are complete people, with nasty bits of a spreading malignancy that eat away at any joy they may have had. We see what made them the way they are and we are still sorry for them – that’s a feat in horror films when the aim is usually far less subtle.
One drawback for some may be that the Gateway itself remains an unnamable menace throughout the film, which is fine by me. We don’t need to know why it’s there, in fact, it’s probably better that we don’t. It finds what It needs to sustain Itself, and we just need to know it’s not looking for us (at the moment). I’m good with a little mystery. Gateway lies in the liminal spaces of an empty house, one that no one has any business in, revealing a relatable and gritty thriller. It’s worth the leisurely pace.
Gateway (2022) is unrated, but call it Rated R for swears, people getting the crap beat out of them, torture, murder, drug use, suicide, necrophilia, stabbing, and strangling.