Thursday 15 April 2021

Portal aka Doors (USA 2021: Dir Saman Kesh, Jeff Desom and Dugan O'Neal)

The genesis of this film came from a 2019 movie called Portals, created by Chris White, which told the story of the arrival of alien entities on earth via four separate but interconnected stories, all by different directors. That movie adopted a fairly straightforward sci fi approach and, apparently, wasn't a great success.

So White started again, with the same basic format and a different set of directors, and two years later came up with Doors, a version of the same story, but with a rather different approach. For its UK release Doors has been retitled Portal (singular not plural this time). OK, so now we're all caught up.

In the three stories comprising the movie the first, 'Day 01 Lockdown', deals, as its title would suggest, with the arrival of strange alien monoliths all over the world. The 'lockdown' of the title also focuses on a group of schoolkids in detention, who are literally locked in when their supervising teacher goes to check what's happening and doesn't return. One of the kids, the trans student Ash (Kathy Khanh), starts to receive messages from a shimmering portal that has appeared in the corridor outside their classroom (a subtle but ingenious effect achieved by close up photography of magnet agitated iron filings). The kids tune into a radio broadcast that fleshes out what's going on; the portals -  or 'doors'  - have appeared worldwide and are gradually absorbing the planet's citizens.

The second story, 'Knockers,' is set 15 days after the alien arrival; the term refers to groups of people who volunteer to step through the doors to investigate what's on the other side. Three intrepid scientists, Becky (Lina Esco), Vince (Josh Peck) and Pat (director O'Neal), are preparing to venture into a portal that sits over a house; once in, they have twelve minutes to explore and leave, otherwise they risk developing permanent 'door psychosis'. But their visit demonstrates that not only is the alien being sentient, it has the power to control memory too.

The final story is 'Lamaj'. Set 101 days into alien occupation, Jamal (Kyp Malone), a man living alone in the forest, has found a door and has conducted successful experiments to communicate with it via a rickety electronic setup. He invites his friend Kathy (Kristina Lear) over to share the experience but she brings her hapless friend Leo (Bira Vanara), who tips off the authorities, with tragic consequences.

Apart from the framing theme, each of the stories are very different in tone, but share a more languid, blissed out feel than the previous movie (I can't help thinking that Denis Villenneuve's 2016 alien encounter movie Arrival may have been an influence). The segments are interspersed with shots of abandoned cities, and a talk radio DJ, Martin Midnight (David Hemphill), fills in the blanks narratively.

Apart from a rather brash end segment, which I could have done without (and the rather odd interstitials whose function seems to be the translation of the alien voices for the audience), I really liked this somewhat abstract approach to the alien invasion theme, and the three stories show, subtly, the development of earth's occupation. Granted there probably wasn't a lot of budget on the table, but here the truism that 'necessity is the mother of invention' is very much in evidence. Pretty good.

Signature Entertainment releases Portal on Digital Platforms and DVD from 19th April.

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