The Chandlers are your typical upper-middle class Aussie family, with mum Jane (Jacqueline McKenzie, Romper Stomper), dad Matt (Myles Pollard, McLeod’s Daughters) and kids Samantha (Shannon Berry, Offspring) and Jake (played by newcomer Ryan Panizza) all getting along sweetly in their stylish and roomy suburban home. One thing that does set them apart from most other such families, though, is the fact that Jane is a particle physicist, and she and her co-worker Regg (Ben Mortley, Cloudstreet) are incredibly close to proving the theory that there are parallel universes. They’ve teleported an apple, you see, but they just don’t know where to as yet. Welcome, to the world(s) of Aussie sci-fi film The Gateway, directed and written by John V. Soto (The Reckoning) and co-written by screen debutant Michael White.
Whilst the science behind the premise is mind-bendingly complex, the set-up of this movie is rather straightforward: a tragic event befalls the idyllic Chandler family and, after a period of inconsolable grief, Jane conceives a daring and dangerous plan to travel to an alternate universe to try undo the loss in their lives. It is reasonably vital to tiptoe around getting too specific here, as to do so would undo some of the film’s best tricks and key plotlines.
The first half of the movie is a bit slow and occasionally dull, leading to the favoured accidentally-on-purpose-bumping-the-mouse-to-see-how-much-of-the-movie-is-left schtick (I viewed it as an online screener). But then, seemingly out of nowhere and rather rapidly, the movie hooks you right in with some decent and expectation-defying plot turns, becoming rather dark and even a little chilling in certain parts – always a good thing.
What the film does well, presumably due to budget constraints, is state: “Here’s the reality of things in relation to particle physics and the alternate universes stuff – it exists, so let’s get on with the story.” It doesn’t bog itself down trying to develop and justify the high-concept minutia that comes with such a far-reaching idea. Pleasingly, what the film lacks in budget it makes up for with some rather clever and cunning subversions of its limitations, ensuring a rather enjoyable viewing experience.
Where the film falls down is within the character development and some of the performances. The acting isn’t bad, per se, in fact, most of it is good; the film is just lacking chemistry and bond between the characters, especially when they’re playing lovers or family. As a result, The Gateway occasionally felt a bit wooden and distant, impacting upon the effectiveness of some of the twists and turns. Relatedly, I found the characters themselves to be rather run of the mill. You could say that this plain and familiar characterisation suits the portrayal of a typical family, but more depth and greater finesse was needed for our leads to stand out with clear, intriguing identities. Simply put: the folk here are a bit grey and unmemorable.
Nevertheless, The Gateway is a still a decent sci-fi film that works because it manages to keep a taut focus, despite an incredibly complex framework. If only the characters had more layers and chemistry to earn our investment throughout.
THE REEL SCORE: 6/10