Loretta Goff opens The Gates, Stephen Hall’s horror feature which screened at the Cork International Film Festival.

Limerick director Stephen Hall’s latest horror, The Gates, transports us to Victorian era London where a serial-killer sentenced to death wreaks posthumous havoc in the prison where he was held. Not shying away from gore, though keeping it to a minimum, the film opens with William Colcott (Richard Brake) arrested in the midst of what appears to be his latest in a string of human sacrifices intended to bring back his dead wife. Introducing Colcott’s ties to the occult here, it is no surprise when strange things begin to occur in the prison after his death by electric chair. While we don’t delve much into Colcott’s life before his arrest or all of his motivations, his menacing presence is clear and continues to build throughout the film.

After some unexplained incidents in the prison and ghostly impressions in photos of Colcott’s corpse, a priest (David Pearse) and a medium, Lucien Abberton (Michael Yare), are brought in to investigate and resolve the issue along with post-mortem photographers, Frederick Ladbroke (John Rhys-Davies) and Emma Wickes (Elena Delia), who are also budding inventors. The uncle and niece duo have been working on a machine that allows for communication with the dead and this is the perfect chance to test it. However, the prison guards and this group of paranormal investigators are not prepared for the force they must contend with and contain within the gates of the prison at all costs.

The film brings together a few seemingly opposing forces, beyond the living and dead, setting them up against each other. Religion and the occult, spirituality and science, and old versus new methods  all clash at various points in the film, but equally find ways of balancing out or working together. Electricity, in particular, plays an interesting role. Not only is Colcott’s death the first in the prison to use the electric chair instead of the traditional hanging, but the photographers’ machine to communicate with the dead (in a way, giving them a new life, or at least voice) works, in part, by electrically charging the room. Drawing on these oppositions, Hall finds several ways to blur the line between life and death in the film and create space for its haunting.

Necessary to any good horror film is a well-developed atmosphere and The Gates delivers in this regard. Cork City Gaol, standing in as Bishop’s Gate Jail, is made full of dark, gloomy spaces illuminated only by low lighting and the few rays of sun stretching in through the windows and casting shadows. Combining this cinematography with convincing effects, makeup and period costumes, the film’s production value is high. While the plot may lack some of the finer details to help set it apart, the atmospheric film with some strong performances is well worth a watch. It may not send chills down the spine of the most avid horror fan, it will certainly offer up a few scares.

The Gates screened on 18th November 2022 as part of the Cork International Film Festival.


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