Studio: Screen Media
Director: Liam O＊Donnell, Eduardo Sanchez, Gregg Hale, Timo Tjahjanto
Writer: Liam O＊Donnell, Sebastian Bendix, Jim Alberts, Robert Cook
Producer: J.D. Lifshitz, Raphael Margules, Brad Miska, Chris White, Alyssa Devine, Griffin Devine, Liam O＊Donnell
Stars: Neil Hopkins, Deanna Russo, Ptolemy Slocum, Shellye Broughton, Paul McCarthy-Boyington, Gretchen Lodge, Salvita Decorte, Natasha Gott
Three stories of science-fiction suspense are linked by the sudden appearance of mysterious black portals across Earth.
Not enough anthology films do what ※Portals§ does. Everyone can get behind a good horror host or solid wraparound story when they＊re done right. Even then however, especially in indie filmmaking, anthologies can still be patchwork quilts of disparate shorts stitched together until feature length is reached. ※Portals§ more effectively links its separate segments to a single premise, making these mini-movies feel like they truly share a universe even though they feature different characters and creators.
The film＊s central premise posits that on August 5th, 2020, scientists created the first manmade black hole. Those experiments triggered a cosmic event that caused blackouts all over the world. With the power outages came countless appearances of mysterious black doorways. With those portals came mass hysteria and unexplained disappearances. ※Portals§ tells tales of one woman struggling to save her sister at the outset of the event, one overworked 911 call center trying to process pandemonium three hours later, and one man fighting to find his family three days after the portals appeared.
This structure works well because with the way these stories weave in and out of one another, we don＊t have to see the same setup over and over again. We have the initial panic stage, the subsequent call-to-action stage, and the aftermath with only minimal overlap, albeit arranged in reverse chronological order. This connecting concept is pretty cool, and we don＊t see nearly enough anthologies that are specific to sci-fi like this.
Unfortunately, the titular portals are so cryptically mysterious in terms of where they come from, who made them, how, why, and what they do, the film has a hard time generating any real depth for its fiction. ※Portals§ overloads on vague themes of dread and uncertainty while many minutes are spent simply watching people puzzle over the black doors, and not necessarily doing much more that that.
Retaining several of the producers and reusing several of the directors, ※Portals§ serves as a successor to the ※V/H/S§ series of horror anthologies. One of those returning directors is Timo Tjahjanto, who helms this film＊s third segment ※Sarah.§
Shot and edited to look like a single take, ※Sarah§ finds two sisters stranded in a parking garage when the power goes out. When the lights return, Sarah follows her entranced sibling to a portal where other parking garage patrons stand and stare with similarly glazed expressions. Trances are broken when those patrons inexplicably morph into bath salt berserkers, forcing Sarah to fight for her life while saving her sis in the process.
Tjahjanto tries to capture some of the memorable magic of his ※Safe Haven§ segment from ※V/H/S/2§ (review here) by devolving ※Sarah§ into an energetic explosion of bloody chaos by its conclusion. ※Sarah＊s§ teeth aren＊t as chillingly sharp as ※Safe Haven＊s§ however, making for a piece with more bark than bite. We spend such little time with the sisters and know so little about current circumstances that ※Sarah§ becomes a hollow mash of screaming and slashing that＊s indistinguishable from numerous other movies with noisy zombie attacks.
Eduardo Sanchez and Gregg Hale team up for the second story. ※Call Center§ basically uses the film＊s frame to tell the tale of a workplace weirdo terrorizing his office with a gun. Already an unhinged conspiracy theorist, Stan forces confused coworkers at a 911 call center to embrace the peculiar portal now standing between their cubicles. After one man＊s encounter with the dark doorway seemingly fries him in a flash of light, other operators gather the gumption to stand up to Stan as a preferable alternative to dying in the portal.
※Call Center§ showcases several of the movie＊s sore thumbs. Acting ranges from poor to average, the camera is usually handheld, and compact locations promote a notion that this project was nickel and dimed to within an inch of its life. The ※V/H/S§ movies did a better job of masking modest budgets. I don＊t know if the checkbook for ※Portals§ was slashed even thinner or if the money didn＊t make it onscreen. But generally speaking, ※Portals§ looks cheaper than it should.
※The Other Side§ plays throughout ※Portals,§ with the other two segments slotting in between. I don＊t have much to say about this wraparound piece, which involves a man whose unusual eye transplant allows him to bridge both dimensions. Like the abrupt ending of ※Call Center,§ ※The Other Side§ suggests too many storytelling shortcuts were taken to finish the film, and narrative substance took a bigger hit than any other element.
※Portals§ puts weak flesh on strong bones. Whether the script, budget, or both needed more meat, the anthology feels shortchanged, like it hurried in front of the camera before it was fully dressed. As an unsurprising result, the movie misses out on satisfying stings that would make viewers salivate for more, which is too bad since the core concept possesses more imaginative potential.
Review Score: 55