“The Signal-Man” by Charles Dickens is a great spooky story. In it, a man who runs the train signals in a cutting near a tunnel sees troubling phantoms that seem to foretell a disaster. The setting has a satisfying gloom that differs from the usual haunted house or castle.
“After a maybe-supernatural disappearance, estranged siblings come home to sort the affairs of their presumed-dead parent” — I recently watched both the “boy” and the “girl” versions of this movie plot.
In the “boy” version, Beyond The Gates (written by Stephen Scarlata and Jackson Stewart, and directed by Stewart), 2 brothers packing up their missing father’s video store find a VCR board game that seems to have spirited him away.
In the “girl” version, The Midnight Swim (written and directed by Sarah Adina Smith), 3 sisters connect their mother’s disappearance in the lake she loved to a local folk legend.
The situation in both films draws secrets and sorrows out of the siblings — some explained and some only hinted at. Both films feature movie technology in-story: Gates centers on the VCR game, and Swim is entirely filmed by one of the sisters. But despite the similarities, they feel very different from each other.
Beyond The Gates tells its story of grief, reconnection, and healing through the medium of VHS-era-inspired light schlock horror. It has some sketchy story logic, which is normal for pure schlock but somehwat undercut the emotional story for me as I wondered (for example), “Why don’t they rewind the tape to see if it plays the same thing again?” It has some gore and frights, but isn’t a seriously scary movie. It’s an odd duck. I give it 3 out of 5 stars.
The Midnight Swim isn’t really a horror movie, and the supernatural plays a low-key, ambiguous role in it, but to me it still felt like solid spooky October viewing. I liked it a lot despite some unclarity near the end. It’s a beautiful movie, and I recommend it. Fangoria liked it, too, and describe it better than I can. I give it 4 or 5 stars out of 5.