Writer/director Niall Owens’ Gateway is an Irish horror film which gives a new and intriguing spin on the traditional haunted house trope. Starting off as a gritty crime film, Gateway then segues into a metaphysical horror that delivers well-honed ambient chills rather than cheap jump-scares.
Owing money to a tough crime-boss, four criminals (Timmy Creed, Kevin Barry, Laurence Ubong Williams and Joe Lyons) enter an abandoned house in the hopes of using it to grow cannabis. The house appears to be perfect for their needs – too perfect. And that’s because there’s something dark and sinister lurking within its walls.
Owens manages to achieve the near impossible in a horror film – he makes broad daylight seem foreboding. Shot in what feels like eternal magic hour, Gateway crafts its chills through the familiar and the mundane. The haunted house at the centre of the film isn’t an old dark mansion, it’s a modern family home (hints of the original Hellraiser). In fact, it’s family which sits at the centre of what each character must endure – and this is what ultimately leads to their final turmoil when their pasts come back to haunt them. Then there are the mysterious visitors in black (led by John Ryan Howard), who have an ethereal connection to the house’s mysterious energy.
A minimalist piece of filmmaking, Gateway’s screenplay is sparse on dialogue. It’s a film about looks, expressions and moments. Shot like a gritty drama, the film embraces reality – the mundane – in order to draw in its audience (much like what happens to its characters). Tony Langlois’ score and the film’s enigmatic sound design capture the attention and add an eeriness to the glacial onscreen action. It reeks of atmosphere.
Ditching many of the commercial elements of the genre (masked killings, teenagers, jump-scares and exorcisms), Gateway plays out like a arthouse horror. It’s a film which quietly builds towards the climax, slowly unveiling its mysteries. It might not engage the slasher crowd, but if you’re looking for something a bit more thoughtful, then Gateway is the horror film for you. It depends on what you invest in it, but there’s a good chance that the film will linger with you long after the end credits have rolled.