Christopher White’s Portals, an anthology horror film from Bloody Disgusting, is set during a worldwide blackout the day scientists created “the world’s first man-made blackhole.” Cities are being evacuated. There’s chaos in the streets. As everything falls apart, portals start appearing everywhere.
The portal effects are one of the highlights of the film. They’re black rectangles, calling back to the Monoliths from 2001: A Space Odyssey, but they gleam, as if wrapped in cellophane. They shimmer, with lightning bolts flashing across them. The portals can influence the minds of anyone who gets too close. It’s never clear why some people can resist the mind control and others can’t, but the portals wield their power to either get people to come through, or to force others into the portal.
Every segment in the film features the portal in some capacity or another. In the first non-wrap around and best segment “Call Center Part 1” directed by Eduardo Sánchez (who also directed a little film you may have heard of: The Blair Witch Project) and “Call Center Part 2” directed by Gregg Hale (who produced The Blair Witch Project), a portal blinks into a 911 call center. It possesses Stan (Paul McCarthy-Boyington), who’s been obsessed with a set of strange calls they’d received years earlier about a similar phenomena. He’s got a gun in his desk, and he uses it to intimidate his coworkers into walking into the portal.
The segment works particularly well for two reasons. The confined setting means that the characters have very few options outside of negotiating with Stan. The manager Kathy (Shellye Broughton) messages the police, starting a timer for a SWAT team’s arrival on one of the computer screens. In tandem with the confined setting, the timer adds a sense of urgency, making this segment compelling.
The second segment “Sarah,” directed by Timo Tjahanto, follows sisters Sarah (Salvita Decorte) and Jill (Natasha Gott) in Jakarta. Sarah who “can’t walk when everyone tries to carry [her] all the time” has lost a child. Jill is pregnant, which is revealed by the incredibly clunky dialogue, “I have to have the wedding now.” The beginning of the segment is weighted down with that kind of clunky dialogue.
They’re in a parking garage, looking for their car when a portal appears. It zombifies the other drivers, making pushing Sarah into the portal. The segment gets better once the titular portal is introduced, but it’s hard to care about either of the characters at that point because the dialogue has been so bad.
The longest segment Liam O’Donnell’s “The Other Side” is the wraparound following a family. It’s broken into three parts, all featuring Adam (Neil Hopkins). In the first he’s evacuating with his wife Andrea (Phet Mahathongdy) and daughter Kate (Ruby O’Donnell). As they drive down an empty highway, a portal appears in front of them. He’s looking back, without time to turn. He hits it. The story stops there as the film transitions into “The Call Center.”
“The Other Side” picks up after, with Adam waking in the hospital. He asks for his family repeatedly. He’s told they’re alive but he can’t see them. He’s fed excuse after excuse. More alarmingly, he’d told that his eye is missing when it isn’t. The story picks up again after “Sarah”.
The wraparound story isn’t working as well as it could be. There’s some tension, but nowhere near as much as “The Call Center.” The dialogue and acting aren’t as bad as the “Sarah,” but without much tension to drive it, the segment is mediocre at best. It does feature the best gore in the film, and some cringe-inducing eye scares.
The best part of the anthology is the international scope. Bringing in creatives from different cultures together to tell stories about the same portals set in their own countries is a brilliant idea. It brings authentic voices together, even if they’re not all singing in key.
WICKED RATING: 5/10
Directors: Gregg Hale, Liam O’Donnell, Eduardo Sánchez, Timo Tjahjanto
Writers: Sebastian Bendix, Liam O’Donnell, Timo Tjahjanto, Christopher White
Stars: Paul McCarthy-Boyington, Shellye Broughton, Salvita Decorte, Natasha Gott, Neil Hopkins, Phet Mahathongdy, Ruby O’Donnell
Release: October 25, 2019 (in theaters and On-Demand)
Studio/ Production Co: Bloody Disgusting, BoulderLight Pictures, PigRat Productions