The great thing about haunted house movies is it's a really broad subgenre. A haunted house can be anything. And be situated anywhere. No two are ever the same. They can be haunted by ghosts. Or maybe demons. Or memories. Or something completely Other. That's what we get with Niall Owens’ new film Gateway. It's a story about a chance encounter with a house that is not as empty as it seems. Though the exact nature of what haunts its halls remains a mystery, its effect is undeniable.

As it opens, the film has the feel of a crime thriller. We follow a small group of criminals over the course of a single day. These are small-time, small town underworld figures. Their ultimate goal is to secure a location to grow a crop of marijuana plants that will soon come into their possession. Eventually, they get a tip on a house that has sat empty for a number of years. This is where the film slowly transitions into a dark tale of a strange and undefinable haunting.

The house looks normal. Yes, it's empty and dusty, but there is still some furniture here and there, as well as plastic tarps attempting to keep things clean, so it still manages to feel modern and connected to the world. This isn't a rotten, falling apart mansion that you take one look at and say, oh, that place is haunted AF. This house is common and nondescript. It is also not so much haunted as it is occupied. The presence inside is something hungry and menacing. One by one, they are overcome by the power of what lies within its walls. There is a room at the top of the stairs that houses a secret. Something powerful and terrifying. It can see into their hearts. It preys upon their traumas, weaknesses and guilt.

The film is captivating in the way it slowly unfolds. We follow our protagonist Mike (Tim Creed) over the course of the day, as he encounters several people, eventually meeting up with the larger crew. Scene by scene, we learn a bit more about his life. Mike is visibly struggling. The camera periodically cuts to his internal thoughts, which are filled with visions of a young woman. Slowly, more pieces fall into place and we learn that the young woman is his sister Hannah (Fiona Hardy), who died only a month prior. Mike is actively mourning her loss and is trying to figure out what to make of her death and her subsequent absence. 

Eddie (Laurence Ubong Williams), another member of the group, is struggling with a recent loss as well. His father unexpectedly passed away. These characters are not people who are adept at processing or talking about their emotions, so they are left with this grief that festers and goes unresolved. Much goes unspoken, but the film subtly tells us just how much they are struggling.

It is in these moments that the filmmaking really finds its strength. We regularly cut away from the action to see an image of Hannah standing over Mike’s bed staring down at him. Or a shot of Mike walking down the empty alleyway where Hannah’s body was discovered. It is to thoughts like this that his mind regularly wanders over the course of the day. They break in, unannounced, and take control of his mind and his focus. He is constantly being pulled away from the business at hand because these thoughts are ever–present. These moments are further elevated by a fantastic score by Tony Langolis. Low hums and drones accompany these moments and provide internal feelings and thoughts that the character is unable to put into words. But we are able to feel them.

The story unfolds slowly, but in the midst of it all, there are some powerful scenes in that house that send both the characters and the audience reeling. Again, this isn’t a standard haunting. The something that resides in that house is beyond explanation, but we can clearly see the impact that it has on those who wander into its space. The film is an effective one, but I honestly would have enjoyed seeing a bit more time spent exploring the nature of the house itself. Not necessarily filling in all of the blanks (the film uses its ambiguity to its advantage), but providing just a bit more detail to fill it out.

That being said, Gateway is a solid film that is very worth your time. It’s a slow moving story that gradually builds itself into something that you really don’t expect, and delivers an effective and riveting finale. It’s fun to see just how many different things filmmakers can come up with when exploring the notion of a haunted house, and this is one that we don’t see terribly often.

Movie Score: 4/5