'Portals': Film Review

Courtesy of Screen Media
Not a dimension to which you'll want to cross over.
10/25/2019

Four veteran horror filmmakers, including Eduardo Sanchez of 'The Blair Witch Project,' contribute to this anthology of tales revolving around the aftermath of the creation of a man-made black hole.

Horror anthology films usually have one thing going for them: If one story proves uninteresting, another, possibly better one, will show up in a few minutes. That advantage is put to the test with this new example featuring three separate stories, one of which occurs periodically as a wraparound, as well as a linked prologue and epilogue. (Got all that? I know, it's confusing). Unfortunately, despite the abundance of talented genre filmmakers involved, Portals ultimately proves much less than the sum of its mediocre parts.

Helmed by four veteran horror film directors — Eduardo Sanchez (The Blair Witch Project), Gregg Hale (V/H/S/2), Timo Tjahjanto (The Night Comes for Us) and Liam O'Donnell (Beyond Skyline) ­— the pic depicts the nightmarish events that occur after a group of scientists creates the first man-made black hole. The reasons for this are left unexplained, and the fact that the events are supposed to occur on Aug. 5, 2020, signifies that the filmmakers don't mind that Portals will look embarrassingly dated in less than a year.

Not surprisingly, the creation of an artificial black hole turns out to be not such a good thing. It leads to a "cosmic disruption" resulting in worldwide blackouts and mass disappearances. More strangely, the landscape becomes littered with large black monoliths that are either doors to another dimension or a clumsy homage to 2001: A Space Odyssey.

O'Donnell's "The Other Side," the story that reappears throughout, concerns married couple Adam (Neil Hopkins) and Kate (Ruby O'Donnell) taking their young daughter on a road trip in the aftermath of the crisis, in the belief that they'll be safer at the home of Kate's mother. The plan goes awry when Adam drives smack dab into one of those pesky portals, only to wake up in a hospital with no vision in one eye and a shady doctor (Ptolemy Slocum) and nurse (Deanna Russo) unconvincingly telling him that his wife and child are just fine. Things only get more baroque from there, with Adam eventually being reunited with his family, but only at great personal cost.

Sanchez and Hale's "Call Center" proves more grounded and realistic in its depiction of the turmoil at a 911 call center besieged by panicked phone calls after the event. One of the dispatchers starts believing that he's personally receiving messages from the portals and winds up holding his fellow employees at gunpoint, with ultimately fatal results.

The most effectively tense segment proves to be Tjahjanto's "Sarah," set in a Jakarta underground parking lot where siblings Sarah (Salvita Decorte) and Jill (Natasha Gott) find themselves trapped when the apocalyptic event occurs. Jill quickly succumbs to a portal's otherworldly pull: "Do you hear it, Sarah? It's calling us!" she cries. Zombies also soon show up, because no horror film these days should be without them.

Finally, there's a mockumentary-style prologue and epilogue (you have to sit through the end credits to catch the latter) in which we hear from some of the scientists responsible for the catastrophe. The epilogue may indeed be the scariest episode in the movie, because it seems to offer the promise of a sequel.

None of this, frankly, makes an iota of sense, even in suspend-your-disbelief terms, with the result that Portals is much more frustrating than chilling. Thanks to the efforts of the talented filmmakers and the committed performances by the all-in cast, there are some undeniably spooky moments. But you have to sit through an awful lot of tedium to get to them.

Production companies: Bloody Disgusting, BoulderLight Pictures, PigRat Productions
Distributor: Screen Media
Cast: Neil Hopkins, Deanna Russo, Gretchen Lodge, Natacha Gott, Phet Mahathongdy, Ptolemy Slocum, Salvita Decorte
Directors: Eduardo Sanchez, Gregg Hale, Timo Tjahjanto, Liam O'Donnell
Screenwriters: Sebastian Bendix, Liam O'Donnell, Timo Tjahjanto, Christopher White
Producers: Alyssa Devine, Griffin Devine, J.D. Lifshitz, Raphael Margules, Brad Miska, Liam O'Donnell, Christopher White
Executive producers: Ben Collins, Hasraf Dullul, Conor McAdam, Michael D. Messina, Jamie Nash, Seth Needle, Tom Owen, Luke Pietrowski
Directors of photography: Christopher Probst, Batara Goempar Siagian, Boa Simon
Editors: Eduardo Sanchez, Chad Van Horn
Composer: Ram Khatabakhsh
Costume designer: Nicole Sanchez

85 minutes