Studio: Uncork’d Entertainment
Director: Jaron Henrie-McCrea
Writer: Carys Edwards, Jaron Henrie-McCrea
Producer: Carys Edwards, Vadin Lum You, Jaron Henrie-McCrea, Lesley Horsman
Stars: Danni Smith, Tim Lueke, Martin Monahan, Rick Zahn, Preston Lawrence, Chuck McMahon, Gregory Konow
Vanishing shower curtains lead a troubled woman to discover a hidden portal in the bathroom wall of her new apartment.
Although it’s a minor pity that they did so, I don’t begrudge the person(s) responsible for thinking it shrewd to widely release festival circuit oddity “Curtain” as the blandly titled “The Gateway.” Consumer products should be as broadly appealing as possible and potentially implying that what’s on tap is some kind of “killer shower curtain movie” is a narrow way to go. It’s also an inaccurate implication, likely to disappoint a gleeful stoner crowd of “Killer Bong” or “Gingerdead Man” fans mistakenly anticipating a flippant fright flick about a sentient sheet of plastic from Bed Bath & Beyond.
Beige marketing logic aside, the issue with abandoning the “Curtain” name is that “The Gateway” no longer tells you upfront that the movie is in on the joke, so to speak, which is important for understanding the film’s peculiar style. I don’t mean to indicate that “The Gateway” is comedic, even though it does display a subdued sense of humor. (There are intentionally inherent snickers, yet nothing is staged to be laugh-out-loud campy. Quirky is a better descriptor for the unconventional atmosphere.) Rather, the film treats itself seriously, but wants you to know it realizes its setup is somewhat absurd in a way that “The Gateway” can’t come close to communicating.
Danni’s dissatisfaction as a hospice nurse means it’s time for a motivational career change. Off go the scrubs and on goes a vest as she takes to the streets with fellow solicitor Tim as a less-than-successful “Whale Savers” activist.
Danni is also tired of sleeping on Uncle Gus’ couch. Lucky for her, although unlucky for the previous occupant driven to slit his own throat, a vacancy has opened up in a dinky, dirty New York apartment that she can at least call her own. Amenities include cramped walls, a sketchy superintendent, and an inter-dimensional portal hidden behind the tiles above her bathtub.
Shortly after moving in, Danni wakes to discover that the shower curtain she installed the night before has inexplicably disappeared. Puzzled, Danni puts up another one and it too vanishes. With her cellphone camera strategically positioned, Danni replaces the curtain one more time and video later shows her that once the bathroom door is closed, a strange swirl pulls the sheet right off its rod and the curtain disappears, quickly sealing the portal behind it.
Danni senses something eerie. Coworker Tim sniffs a scientific breakthrough. Together, the two of them poke a sleeping lion with additional experiments intended to uncover exactly where the shower curtains are going and how. What Danni and Tim unravel is a startling mystery connected to occult magic, a group of grim gateway guardians, and sinisterly snarling creatures, with every one of these threats presenting the possibility of an excruciatingly painful death.
“The Gateway” is precisely the sort of inspired indie effort that fledgling genre filmmakers with minimal resources and maximum outside-the-box initiative should make. It’s not a derivative “found footage” cash-in or humdrum haunted house knock-off. It’s not an overambitious sci-fi epic or post-apocalyptic zombie retread biting off more than its budget can chew. A coarse metaphor would say “The Gateway” wears plain pants, but they fit the film’s frame, not too tight and not too loose. Along with co-writer Carys Edwards, director Jaron Henrie McCrea uses a slim cast and Spartan production design to craft a story and visual look that makes sense for scaled down scope, and those sensibilities suit “The Gateway” to a tee.
Surface appearances might even suggest too casual of a creative attitude. Primary players just use actors’ actual first and last names. Bit parts are given such cursory consideration that background characters have names like “Man Eating Hotdog” and “Roommate’s Buddy.” Secondary beats develop Danni’s backstory relationships by suggesting her arc of troubled loner finding a meaningful place in the world might have a thematic parallel to the plot, though such a payoff never pans out.
Except what this less-is-more, or rather less-is-all-we-need, approach brings “The Gateway” is a spirit of scrappiness perhaps light on polish, yet heavy on courage to be different through simplicity. Also functioning as the film’s cinematographer, McCrea crams his camera into odd corners for disorienting angles, likely due to constrictions of shooting inside an apartment the size of a small closet. Lead performers Danni Smith and Tim Lueke have no other acting credits to their names and that inexperience lends authenticity to roles as an affable Average Jane and Average Joe. Accentuate stripped imagery and sincere characterizations with Adam Skerritt’s equally offbeat music and “The Gateway” delivers a throwback 1980s tone without retro chic smoke and mirrors.
Running an almost scandalously scant 70 minutes including credits, “The Gateway” has the right amount of uniqueness to go down easy before it has time to grow tiresome. The film is not quite weirdly inventive enough for everlasting midnight movie cult status, but it at least tears a ticket for one night’s worth of modestly eccentric entertainment.
Review Score: 75