'The Gateway': Film Review

An intriguing concept, flatly executed.

A particle physicist discovers the ability to visit alternate worlds in a sci-fi thriller set in the Australian suburbs.

The leafy suburbs of Perth, Australia's western capital, are the setting for a lo-fi game of interdimensional cat and mouse in The Gateway, a cheapie from Aussie genre-meister John V. Soto (Needle, The Reckoning). The worlds visited all look drably identical, give or take some inclement weather, and the effects work is homespun, to put it mildly, but the whole thing plays mostly like a straight earth-bound thriller anyway, with a husband gone berserk and a family on the run. A nifty premise — a grieving widow brings a parallel-world version of her husband back to her own, with disastrous consequences — isn't enough to transcend a torpid screenplay; an obscure corner of one or another VOD platform beckons.

Aussie stalwart Jacqueline McKenzie (Romper Stomper, The Water Diviner) plays Jane, a physicist racing to show results before her funding gets cut off. She's trying, alongside Regg (Ben Mortley), her sole colleague in the world's smallest but most ambitious lab, to teleport an apple from one box to another. It's like something out of Star Trek, as Jane tells her sullen kids (Shannon Berry and Ryan Panizza). When the apple vanishes entirely — "it's just disappeared into thin air,” Jane exclaims — she realizes they've created a wormhole to a parallel dimension. Regg and Jane soon receive a videotape from the same: a dispatch from what looks like their own office, only not. Bathed in red light by DP David Le May, this lab is presided over by another, pantsuit-wearing Jane, who seems pretty unfazed by contact from another world.

The original Jane's jubilation over this breakthrough is stoppered by a strange call from her husband Matt (Myles Pollard), who tells her he loves her and hangs up. Racing home from the mangrove jetty where the two usually meet for lunch, she drives up to a crash site, and Soto milks an elongated slo-mo sequence in which a distraught Jane tears a sheet off an ambulance gurney to reveal a bruised and bloodied Matt underneath. The script by the director and Michael White never clarifies what exactly happened, but the effect of Matt's possible suicide is devastating, with Jane barely able to drag herself out of bed, let alone cook breakfast for the kids. Her friend Ruth (Hayley McElhinney) steps in to help out, while Jane hatches a plan to put everything back the way it was.

Soto and his editor Regg Skwarko (The Reckoning) kick the film off with a scene they'll cycle back to later, in which Jane creeps inside her own house to find her kids, husband and another version of herself sitting happily at the dining table. Inexact navigation between multiple worlds gives The Gateway a pat ending reminiscent of Inception's, but for the most part its narrative is straightforward and explicable, with the science-fictional premise providing a, ahem, gateway into issues of identity, letting go and the dangers of attempting to remake the past. Often cast as a bronzed outdoors type (a surfer in Drift, a trucker in Looking for Grace), Pollard looks convincingly pallid here, with eyes increasingly bloodshot as his paranoia and aggression escalates and the film spirals into domestic terror.

He and the convincingly hysteric McKenzie do their best, but they're hamstrung by a colorless script more interested in shuffling them around than giving them anything memorable to say. There's lots of talk about petawatts in the lab, and strained banter at home in which Jane's husband makes what are meant to be humorous remarks about her weight. Text outlining Tegmark's theory of a multiverse gets flashed up onscreen at the beginning of the film, then reiterated out-loud by Regg shortly afterwards. As they did for last year's superior OtherLife, Perth's empty boulevards make a fittingly deracinated setting for cosmic goings-on, and Le May's unobtrusive digital photography captures the drabness of a world that is both infinite and inescapable.

Production company: Filmscope Entertainment
Distributor: Gravitas Ventures
Cast: Jacqueline McKenzie, Myles Pollard, Ben Mortley, Shannon Berry, Ryan Panizza, Hayley McElhinney, Troy Coward, Adam T Perkins, Shirley Toohey
Director: John V. Soto
Screenwriters: John V. Soto, Michael White
Producer: John V. Soto
Director of photography: David Le May
Production designer: Monique Wajon
Costume designers: Lisa Galea, Nora Stelter
Editor: Regg Skwarko
Music: Thomas Rouch

90 minutes