Portals Movie Review

Written by Stuart D. Monroe

Released by Screen Media

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Directed by Liam O’Donnell (“The Other Side”), Eduardo Sanchez (“Call Center Pt. 1”), Gregg Hale (“Call Center Pt. 2”), and Timo Tjahjanto (“Sarah”)
Written by Sebastian Bendix, Liam O’Donnell, Timo Tjahjanto, and Christopher White (created by)
2019, 85 minutes, Not Rated
Released on October 25th, 2019

Deanna Russo as Leslie
Ptolemy Slocum as Dr. Markonen
Neil Hopkins as Adam
Salvita Decorte as Sarah
Natasha Gott as Jill
Shellye Broughton as Miss Kathy
Paul McCarthy-Boyington as Stan

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There are few things in the world more synonymous with horror than the anthology. While the genre doesn’t have a monopoly on the venerable and trustworthy format, the two go together like peanut butter, marshmallow crème, and honey (don’t you judge me!). Another good combo is horror and sci-fi; it’s like oral sex before the main attraction – one should enhance the other. Am I right, or am I right? I mean, can I get an amen?!

So, it stands to reason that when you mash all of those together and structure your film in such a way that there’s a wraparound to the wraparound and a different kind of approach, you’re in for a hell of a treat. Things don’t always stand to reason in the real world, but I’m glad to report that in the case of Portals, the formula bears some cosmically nasty fruit that will stand the test of time and potentially open a franchise.

We open with a shot of the cosmos and what appears to be a riff in the distance. We’re told that on August 5th, 2020, at 2:47 PM EST, that scientists celebrate the creation of the first man-made black hole. I’m not one of those aforementioned scientists, but I’m no dummy. That’s a bad idea. Soon (like within hours), the planet is experiencing widespread blackouts and the appearance of floating portals made of purest obsidian anywhere and everywhere. The portals speak to some folks telepathically, beckoning them inside. They never return. Portals tells the story of family man Adam (Neil Hopkins; LOST) in the wraparound tale, “The Other Side”, as he attempts to get his family to safety, only to crash into one of the portals and somehow return. He awakens in a shadowy facility run by Leslie (Deanna Russo; The Ice Cream Truck) and Dr. Markonen (Ptolemy Slocum; Westworld)…and there’s something very wrong with his eye. You must also bear witness to the tale of the staff of a 9-1-1 call center in the aftermath of the blackout in “Call Center Pt.1 and 2” and the parking garage claustrophobia of a grieving woman named Sarah (Salvita Decorte; The Night Comes for Us) in “Sarah”.

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The format of Portals offers a unique take on the template that I don’t want to give away; suffice to say there’s a bonus that ends the whole affair on a powerful note and leaves you wanting more. Anthologies are usually hit and miss, but all the tales offer a strongly delivered mix of gore, sci-fi flavor, and deeper thought into the subtext of each mini-drama:

  • “The Other Side”: Neil Hopkins, as Adam, delivers just the kind of quirky, multi-layered lead performance you want in a wraparound. The story develops with the right amount of tension and pacing, filling in the mythology of what these portals are. When it hits you with the reason behind the whole shebang, you will feel it. The different types of horrific potential blow past the “horror for the sake of shock” trope so often encountered in anthologies. Deanna Russo adds a ton here, as does Ptolemy Slocum. Liam O’ Donnell (Skyline, The Bay) directs with sublime nuance, then hits you at just the right moments.
  • “Call Center Pt. 1 and 2”: Eduardo Sanchez (The Blair Witch Project) and Gregg Hale (V/H/S/2) are the perfect pair to handle the microcosm story. This is one is intense and just makes you want to run away fast, filled with reality-based characters and grounded in a naturally tense environment (seriously, how do 9-1-1 operators do it?). Once that portal shows up, oh shit rapidly becomes WHAT THE FUCK?!
  • “Sarah”: A tale of a woman who runs halfway across the world to Indonesia only to have to face her grief thanks to the portals, this one sports a zombie sensibility and surprising physical violence. The bit with the baby in the stroller made me scream out loud at the screen. Style points out the ass are awarded here. Timo Tjahjanto (V/H/S/2) pulls zero punches with his gritty approach.
  • THE EXTRA STORY: I don’t have a proper name for this one, but you don’t often see teasers for the future of a story done with more panache or audacity. Bravo!

As an overall package, Portals is ludicrously solid. The VFX on the portals themselves are a lot of fun, offering a splash of that “non-Euclidian geometry” that old H.P. Lovecraft was so fond of. On that note, while Portals isn’t overtly Lovecraftian, it does bear that stamp that all good cosmic horror wears proudly (I did catch that Cthulhu plushy in the background!). The difference is that instead of going for the big, showy, multi-eyed horror, you’re forced to look inward and get a little more cerebral with it. That’s a bold choice that pays off, though if you’re not inclined to using that intellect, you may find Portals a bit hard to follow. In short, it’s not a movie for the simple-minded folks looking for a goofy good time.

The SFX are also top-shelf and keep the mix at about 75% horror, 25% sci-fi. There’s plenty of the wet stuff to go around, and when physical violence is called for, it’s visceral and fairly legit. The desert scenes reminded me strongly of Southbound (another stellar anthology).

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Portals belongs firmly in the upper pantheon of the new wave of horror that utilizes the potential of horror, sci-fi, and grounded reality to shocking effectiveness. In blending the lines between different genres and styles and unifying them with a no-bullshit sensibility while presenting top-tier talent in front of and behind the lens, Portals is a bit of Christmas come early. Not at all your standard horror/sci-fi, it bastardizes elements of both to give a horrifying plausible on the “be careful what you dabble in” story archetype.

In other words, don’t miss it. This is your public service announcement.

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Movie: 2.5 Star Rating Cover

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Stuart D. Monroe
Staff Reviewer
Stuart D. Monroe is a man of many faces – father, husband, movie reviewer, published author of short horror, unsuccessful screenwriter (for now), rabid Clemson Tiger, Southern gentleman, and one hell of a model American who goes by the handle "Big Daddy Stu" or "Sir". He's also highly disturbed and wears that fact like a badge of honor. He is a lover of all things horror with a particular taste for the fare of the Italians and the British. He sometimes gets aroused watching the hardcore stuff, but doesn't bother worrying about whether he was a serial killer in a past life as worrying is for the weak. He was raised in the video stores of the '80s and '90s. The movie theater is his cathedral. He worships H.P. Lovecraft, Stephen King, and Clive Barker. When he writes, he listens obsessively to either classical music or the works of Goblin to stimulate the neural pathways. His favorite movie is Dawn of the Dead. His favorite book is IT. His favorite TV show is LOST.
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