Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: John V Soto
Stars: Jacqueline McKenzie, Myles Pollard, Ben Mortley, Ryan Panizza, Shannon Berry, Hayley McElhinney.
Western Australian based filmmaker John V Soto specialises in B-grade genre films such as the 2014 crime drama The Reckoning. For his fourth feature film the genre hopping Soto ventures into science fiction territory with the low budget mind bending The Gateway, which deals with ambitious themes like parallel worlds and teleportation. But Soto’s ambitions are somewhat limited by his modest $1.7 million budget and a script that needed tightening and reworking to develop more tension.
In her crowded laboratory physicist and researcher Jane Chandler (Jacqueline McKenzie, from The 4000, etc) and her assistant Regg (Ben Mortley, from McLeod’s Daughters, etc) are experimenting with molecular deconstruction and teleportation. Funding is tight and so far they have little success. They then make a breakthrough when an apple disappears after having been placed in one of their special pods. Soon after it returns. Intrigued, Jane decides to send a video camera through the pod to record what happens. It returns some time later with footage showing a similar lab in another dimension, with another version of Jane still in charge. Jane realises that they have hit on the key to travelling to an alternative world. She then decides to experiment with herself and takes a brief trip via the pod to this other world.
But then Jane’s writer husband Matt (Myles Pollard, from McLeod’s Daughters, Wolverine, etc) is killed. The cause of his death is unknown, but it sends Jane into a depression. In desperation, Jane then takes the risky decision to venture into the other dimension to connect with Matt’s counterpart hoping to find solace. Although everything seems familiar in this world there are differences that soon become important to the plot. In this alternate world Jane and Matt have no children. And it was Jane who was killed, leaving Matt alone and grieving. Jane brings Matt back to her world and tries to resume a normal life.
Matt has trouble adjusting to his new life and connecting with Jane’s two teenaged children Jake (newcomer Ryan Panizza in his film debut) and Samantha (Shannon Berry, from Offspring, etc). But it soon becomes clear that Matt has a dark side and is dangerous. A former soldier, he carries some strange futuristic weapon and has a volatile temper. Realising that she and her family are in danger, Jane has to try and return Matt to where he came from.
The script was co-written by Soto and first-time screen writer Michael White, who sadly passed away in early February of this year. White was once a member of 80s band The Thompson Twins, who had a huge hit with Hold Me Now. When he started work on the film Soto was considering a time travel theme, but realised that had been “done to death” in many other films, such as Source Code, Time Cop and even Déjà Vu, etc, so he decided to explore the idea of parallel worlds instead. The Gateway was originally entitled Love You Twice, a fairly bland title when compared to its current title.
The Gateway is driven by an intriguing premise but is ultimately let down by the limitations of the budget and resources. This is a fairly straight forward narrative although there are a couple of nice twists to keep audiences interested. Soto’s regular editor Regg Skwarko deftly moves between the two alternative worlds.
Unlike big budget Hollywood films like Inception, there are few spectacular VFX effects here or lavish sets. Monique Wajon’s production design is good, although the pods in Jane’s laboratory look vaguely like those from Cronenberg’s classic The Fly, which was an influence on this film. And given the small cast Soto had to work with, there are only two scientists in her laboratory – which is a little strange given the ambitious and highly technical nature of her experiments. Cinematographer David Le May (The Pineville Heist, etc) however creates a strong visual contrast, shooting the two different laboratories with a different colour scheme as a way of distinguishing between the two worlds. Le May has shot on digital film, and he gives the Perth locations something of a drab look, which brings an ominous tone to the material.
Soto elicits strong performances from his two leads. McKenzie convincingly portrays Jane’s grief and desperation, and is strong in an emotionally demanding role. Pollard does well in capturing the contrasting personalities of the two Matts and moves from gentle and sympathetic to bringing a menacing edge to his performance as the psychopathic alternative version of the character. However, the two children are rather weak and unconvincing, and their performances feel forced. Their dialogue is a little trite and often woodenly delivered.