Writer/director Niall Owens’ feature debut, Gateway (not to be confused with The Gateway), opens with an ominous quote from Spanish philosopher Baltasar Gracian, “Never open the door to a lesser evil, for others and the bigger ones invariably sneak up after that.” And with a title like Gateway, we know doors of one kind or another are about to open.
Mike (Tim Creed, A Date for Mad Mary, Maze) is not well placed at the moment. His sister Hannah (Fiona Hardy, Axman) was recently murdered and it was he who found the body, which haunts him during episodes of sleep paralysis. And after a shoddy job, he owes money to Cyril (Jimmy Smallhorne, Cardboard Gangsters, Dead Still), the kind of person who will make his body the next one someone finds in an alley.
One opportunity comes in the form of an abandoned house that would be perfect for a grow. There is just the problem of the room with a door that refuses to open.
For the first half hour, Gateway unfolds like a crime movie. We meet Mike and his team and learn about their issues, both financial and personal. We also see them getting ready to move into their growhouse. It’s slow and a bit of a chore to solve the characters’ various domestic problems. Apart from Tony Langlois’ disconcerting score and a brief appearance by a character dressed in black (John Ryan Howard, Beyond the Woods), nothing makes you feel like you’re watching a genre film.
Once they get home, however, the mood begins to change. There is the question of why there are no homeless people squatting there. And then there’s the door that seems difficult who it opens to. It opens for Phil (Joe Lyons, Coast Road, Jesus the Remake) who reacts deeply to what he sees and hangs himself soon after.
Gateway is really a slow burn of a movie with few effects. The spirits in the film are indistinguishable from flesh-and-blood humans. Even the walkway itself is just stone slabs in front of a window.
Rather than visual, much of what makes viewers nervous when watching Gateway comes from the film’s audio. Not the usual stinger to go with a jump scare, those are also missing from the movie, but something deeper. The score, as I mentioned, is troubling. It sounds more like a collection of electronic moodscapes than what we wouldn’t normally think of as film music. Or music in the traditional sense, but its deep, rumbling sound penetrates you and instills a sense of dread.
That, combined with a sound design that triggers all the squeaks, rattles and other sounds a strange house can produce. Then it mixes them in with what sounds like voices whispering something you can’t understand. This combination adds a lot of impact to the rather familiar theme of something that feeds on your own negative emotions and uses them against you that Gateway has at its heart.
What is just on the other side of this gateway is never explained, there is not even an attempt to do so. Its construction suggests some sort of ancient monolithic construction like Newgrange, a relic of Ireland’s pagan history. How it ended up in this modern house is something the filmmakers wisely didn’t try to explain.
As long as you don’t mind the sluggishness and lack of responses, Gateway is, once the first half hour passes, a chilling and absorbing film. Ireland is becoming a prolific source of quality genre fare, and films like this are one of them.