Wow! I did not expect to get to "Lovecraftian cosmic horror" so early in my run of October Horror Movies this year, but Portal (aka Doors) has been on my radar since I first heard about it back in February.
Then it popped up the other week on Sky Cinema (in the UK), so I had to download it.
Knowing absolutely nothing about the story (which is how I prefer to approach a film usually), beyond the publicity blurb I shared at the time, I'd been rather expecting a straight-forward sci-fi, possibly involving alternate dimensions and monsters.
But I was very wrong.
The world is suddenly gripped by a wave of strange phenomena, caused by the appearance of mysterious walls of alien energy - which are quickly named "doors".
Large swathes of the population disappear or go mad, and Portal unfolds as a series of vignettes, each co-written by creative director Saman Kesh.
Initially the "doors" appear like a black wall of magnetised giant iron filings, but by the penultimate segment Lamaj (co-written by segment director Dugan O'Neal) we are introduced to a very different door, that appears more like a rock or a menhir (and is the one featured in the poster above).
Until Lamaj, the doors communicate telepathically, with their words appearing as text in-screen, in a manner suggestive of Danny The Street, from Doom Patrol.
The first chapter of the 84-minute film, concerns a group of troubled teens - very Breakfast Club - in detention when the alien "doors" first arrive, and shows their possibly fatal interactions with one of the new visitors.
The next section, some days later, concerns a group of citizen-explorers, quickly organised by the world's governments from the surviving members of the population, who are tasked with venturing into the "doors" and reporting back what they discover.
This segment, co-written by Ed Hobbs, is possibly the most interesting as we witness the rapid decline into insanity these brave souls - nicknamed 'Knockers' - suffer as they travel to a twisted parallel world that's part Alice Through The Looking Glass and part the final sequence of 2001: A Space Odyssey.
Next up is Lamaj, in which a renegade scientist, Jamal (Kyp Malone), seeks to share his discovery, near his woodland cabin, of a "door" that he can actually hold conversations with.
Naturally, things don't go according to plan.
And finally, we have an "online" segment where a podcaster interviews a parallel worlds' expert (Darius Levanté), and events take an apocalyptic turn.
The build-up, and the early formula, for Portal are great, crafting a terrifying vision of a world in the grip of an alien phenomena that it is totally unprepared to deal with.
Possibly the closest mainstream movie I can think to compare this to is Denis 'Dune' Villeneuve's Arrival, from 2016.
However, the lack of any kind of real resolution, means that ultimately Portal feels incomplete.
The tagline "Forget Everything You Know About The Universe" rather oversells what Portal really has to offer an enquiring audience.
With no connection between the various vignettes beyond the global situation there are no characters that we can invest in for any length of time, and thus our motivation for watching is primarily about seeking answers.
While I wouldn't expect the entire backstory to be spelled out, the lack of any connectivity makes the individual chapters of the tale feel just like a succession of "things that happened".
And that doesn't really make a story.
On one hand, you have the verisimilitude of the in-universe inability to grapple with the breadth of true Lovecraftian cosmic horror, but on the hand we have an audience seeking justification for spending 84-minutes watching this movie.
The fragmented structure of the film takes me back to that cornerstone of HP Lovecraft's Cthulhu mythos, his iconic story The Call of Cthulhu. But that works because its had a narrative through-line that Portal lacked.
I'll be honest, I still kind of loved it. As an experiment in unnerving film making, I appreciated what it was striving to do, but it ultimately it came up short.
Maybe it needed one more segment to tell the next stage of the story or something more solid to link the strikingly different pieces of the film together.
FILMS WATCHED: 2
NEW TO ME: 2