Friday, July 29, 2016

Past Misdeeds: The Last Gateway (2007)

Through the transformation of the glorious WTF-Films into the even more glorious Exploder Button and the ensuing server changes, some of my old columns for the site have gone the way of all things internet. I’m going to repost them here in irregular intervals in addition to my usual ramblings.

Please keep in mind these are the old posts without any re-writes or improvements. Furthermore, many of these pieces were written years ago, so if you feel offended or need to violently disagree with me in the comments, you can be pretty sure I won’t know why I wrote what I wrote anymore anyhow.

Peace in the small, dilapidated town of Pleasentville [sic] is disturbed by a series of strange events. Kids fish a strange creature out of the creek locals use to drain their excrements in, a very dead looking woman appears in front of hotel owner John (Patricio Schwartz) asking for her son and peculiar strangers roam the town, looking for each other, but especially a man named Michael (Rodrigo Aragon).

Although John is denying it, Michael and his wife Marianne (Salome Boustani) are in fact hiding away in John's hotel. One day, after some strangeness with the walking dead woman and while Marianne is away, Michael decides to explain their situation to John.

Some unspecified time ago, the couple had just moved into a new house. On their very first night in the new home, Michael suddenly started to suffer from terrible pain in the abdomen and hallucinations (or were they?) of something crawling out of him. Fortunately, their closest neighbour was Victor (Hugo Halbrich), a doctor of something or the other, so Michael and Marianne went to him for help. After some back and forth, it turned out that the good doctor also was an occultist who had made a terrible mistake in a ritual. He had planned to open a gate to hell in his house, but botched his spell so that Michael's body became the gate. Victor really did seem sorry for his mistake and seemed more than willing to correct it, but there were more problems in form of a group of cultists (seemingly old acquaintances of Victor), who wanted the newly opened gate for themselves. The best Victor could do was distract them so that Michael and Marianne could get away.

For the following months, the pair had been driving around the country, plagued by the things that regularly clawed their way out of Michael and hunted by the cultists, as well as by a weird duo consisting of a priest and a satanist. Sleeping in Catholic churches gave the pair some protection from the gate, after some time however, the protections of any given place began to fade, crucifixes to burn.

One day, the couple's car broke down in Pleasentville, right in the middle of nowhere and they decided to hole up in John's hotel for a while.
Here, everything will culminate.

I don't much about Argentinean movies, and nothing at all about the Argentinean horror scene, so I'm not able to put Demian Rugna's The Last Gateway into the proper local context.

The film was shot in English, most of the dialogue seems post-dubbed by people trying to put on fake American accents, giving me the first of many flashbacks to Italy of the 70s and 80s the film provides.

The script also has a certain Italian feel to it. It is slow, doesn't always make sense and seems utterly disinterested in the narrative aspects of filmmaking, taking on many of the aspects a Dardano Sacchetti script for a Lucio Fulci movie would have. There's not much plot logic, no proper ending, no explanations for the motivations of characters, flashbacks come and go and come again, important developments happen off-screen, the dialogue is strangely stiff - in short, all narrative aspects of a the film are a complete mess, as if the film was written by someone from an alternative reality somewhat related but not identical to ours.

Of course, when narrative flaws are as amassed in a movie as they are here, the best (possibly only) way to still enjoy it is to just go with the flow, to let one's expectations of how reality is supposed to work just drift sideways a little until one finds a different perspective on what is happening on screen.

To me, the easiest way to get something out of a film like The Last Gateway is to just ignore the narrative and view it primarily as a mood piece. As such, it often reminded me of Lucio Fulci in his best period with an insistence on long, moody scenes without much happening that take place in interiors that look hot, wet and slowly rotting away from the inside.

I'm somewhat surprised to find this kind of mood in a film shot on digital in one of those bleached-out colour schemes filmmakers using digital instead of film seem to love. Often, the digital picture has problems conveying the proper organic feel that is desperately needed when it comes to the cinematic depiction of decay, but something in Rugna's direction, very possible the slow, slow rhythm he gives much of the film and some excellently rotten locations (no warehouses here), manage to overcome this technical burden.

I am also quite impressed by the quality and creativity of the effects. While composition, pacing and flaws of The Last Gateway are very Fulci-esque, the film goes in a different direction when it comes to its effects. Fulci used to revel in showing gore effects even when he couldn't properly execute them, the potential for ridicule be damned as long as the ideas the great man had in mind found some way onto the screen. Rugna, on the other hand, seems determined to only show us what he is able to pull of convincingly, which leads to less effects sequences than in the Italian's films. Having said that, there still is some gruesome stuff on display, as well as some monsters deeply indebted to the creature design in the better modern Lovecraft adaptations, strange masses of flesh with tentacles, spikes and eyes in all the wrong places. I do appreciate a good monster of this kind.

I don't think it is necessary to say much about the acting in the movie, because I don't think "acting" is the point in a film like this. There are people on screen who are there to mouth certain sentences (mostly concerning exposition that doesn't really make sense and a thematic thread about faith that fittingly leads nowhere), to look sweaty and grimy and to die horrible deaths when needed. They do all that well enough.

The Last Gateway is one of those films I find difficult to recommend to anyone although I highly enjoyed it myself. The problem is that much of what I find enjoyable about it - the sense of decay, the feeling that this film does not play by the rules of reality - will make it utterly unwatchable for many other people. Worse, whether a film's mood works for a given person or not is one of the most subjective things in art, so even if you are willing and able to suspend your sense of reality (that is the step after "suspension of disbelief") for the film, there's a certain possibility you still won't get anything out of it.
So, I can't really recommend The Last Gateway, yet I still do.

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