Wednesday, October 23, 2019

Portals: A Fresh, New SF-Horror-Disaster Pseudo-Anthology

Suppose the monoliths in 2001: A Space Odyssey were evil. That could well be the situation mankind is facing. After scientists successful created the first artificial black hole, there was a massive blackout. Shortly thereafter, these mysterious black obelisks started popping up to suck people into another dimension, or maybe to their death. Nobody really knows, because nobody has made the return trip—yet. It is a global phenomenon that plays out in the inter-connected stories of Portals, a sort of anthology film directed by Gregg Hale, Liam O’Donnell, Eduardo Sanchez & Timo Tjahjanto, which opens this Friday in New York.

People are disappearing at an alarming rate, so in O’Donnell’s “The Other Side,” Adam and his wife decide to retreat to grandma’s house in the countryside. Unfortunately, he accidentally drives right into a portal. However, he somehow comes back, but at considerable physical cost. Of course, he is desperate to see his wife and daughter again, but something is wrong.

Adam’s family are not the only people missing, so it makes sense emergency services operators would be flooded with calls. Their manager runs a tight ship in Hale & Sanchez’s “The Call Center,” but the situation is far outside their experience and well beyond their control. Things really get dire when Stan the slacker operator starts to believe the portals are sending him direct messages.

The action rewinds to the minutes just before the blackout and shifts to Indonesia for Tjahjanto’s “Sarah.” Rather inconveniently, Sarah and her sister Jill are having a bitter sibling quarrel in an underground parking garage when Armageddon unexpectedly strikes. Sarah is angry and probably clinically depressed, but like Kirsten Dunst in Melancholia, she is better equipped to shake off the apocalyptic punches, whereas Jill is far more susceptible to the portals’ influence.

Tjahjanto’s contribution is definitely the strong segment, but the entire film is pretty strong. There is definitely a consistency of look, quality, and narrative elements throughout Portals. In fact, the various constituent stories work so well together, the film really does not feel like an anthology at all. In this case, that is a good thing.

Salvita Decorte and Natasha Gott are terrific as Sarah and Jill. Neil Hopkins does the freaked out convalescent thing with credibility and conviction worthy of Rod Taylor in “And When the Sky Was Opened” and other Twilight Zone patients. Shellye Broughton really commands the screen as the call center manager, while Paul McCarthy-Boyington portrays Stan as a spectacularly unhinged mess.

is the sort of film that coyly parks precisely in the center of the border between horror and science fiction. It presents of a vision of planetary disaster that ought to make physicist and astronomers think twice about creating black holes. It is scary in the regular genre sense but also scary in speculative fiction kind of way. Very highly recommended, Portals opens this Friday (10/25) in New York, at the Cinema Village.