Directors: Gregg Hale, Liam O'Donnell, Eduardo Sánchez & Timo Tjahjanto.
Writers: Sebastian Bendix, Liam O'Donnell, Timo Tjahjanto & Christopher White.
If you’re a bit of a video game fan like me, then the probably the first thing you think of when you hear anything involving the word ‘portal’ is going to include memories of false promises of cake, Cave Johnson telling life what to do with its lemons and Glados saying “I’m a potato.” Well, that and all the countless times you died trying to figure out a puzzle, by putting a portal in the wrong place and falling into something horrible.
Whilst that could make for an interesting movie, that’s not what’s going on here.
Portals is an anthology about scientists creating a black hole and then around 3 hours later, worldwide blackouts are experienced. After that, mysterious floating portals are seen. If you think of the monoliths from 2001, only this time with slightly more evolved but less hairy apes freaking out over them, then you’re on the right track.
There are four tales on offer here so I’ll try and give a little description of each one and…you know what? Let’s skip that. I’ll just give an overview instead because there is a bit of a problem with Portals.
It’s a low budget affair with an interesting premise, but unfortunately, it squanders that premise into something that just isn’t very entertaining.
The story “Call Centre” which, wait for it, is set in a call centre, is probably the best tale on offer. Having it set in an emergency call centre was a clever idea and works well because it uses the one location to give plenty of little glimpses into what is occurring outside. We don’t need to witness events as we can hear the calls coming in and sense the increasing worry amongst the call centre operators. It holds together pretty well and, for me, was surprisingly the best piece in the film.
What makes that surprising about being the best piece is the fact that one of the stories is directed by Timo Tjahanto.
Anyone who’s watched other anthologies may recognise him for the L is for Libido segment in The ABCs of Death and the story Safe Haven from V/H/S 2. He’s also directed such movies as Macabre and Headshot, all of which I quite enjoyed.
Sadly, even he can’t save Portals.
His section is well directed, cleverly disguised with hidden cuts so that it resembles a single shot, but it just doesn’t advance the story in any way.
And that is where Portals falls apart.
There just isn’t enough going on within the story to keep it entertaining. Each segment on its own is OK, but as a whole, it just becomes a little flat and dull.
Every story is pretty much portals appearing, and then folks getting into a panic wondering what the fuck they’re supposed to do. Because it never truly progresses beyond that, boredom is the factor that destroys what could have been a promising idea.
What also seems odd is a moment from the end – so here’s a spoiler warning and if you don’t want to know this bit, skip ahead.
OK, here goes.
*spoiler starts** Some unknown being/force/entity (it’s never explained) has taken control of someone and announces something along the lines of, “This is just the beginning” and about how more is yet to come. But why? OK, it could be a veiled threat towards a sequel, but in the narrative of the story, it’s a pointless thing to say. Pretty much everyone on earth had gone through a portal, so to tell a survivor that they are in for more horror seems pointless when they are possibly the last person left on the planet. It’s a bit like telling someone, “I know where you live and I’m going to come round your house and fuck you up.” But when you get there they’ve moved out and the only resident is a squatter who’s off their heads on crack and has been shitting in a corner of the living room. It was a bit of a pointless threat really. *spoiler ends*
Given the premise of portals to another world, the movie would have worked so much better if the segments were shorter and the tales focused more on all the weird and wonderful things that happened to people once they had gone through them. There was the opportunity to let the imagination go nuts and even within budgetary constraints, do anything imaginable with the concept of portals that lead to other worlds/dimensions/realities. Instead, we just get glimpses of ‘it’s like your world but…different…ok...actually it’s pretty much the same world.
It’s like a politicians promise. They say things will be different, but in reality, nothing changes. It looks the same but is somehow worse only now you have less money with nothing to show for it.
The film isn’t a complete write-off, but it is one that’s full of wasted potential. It's disappointing because there were glimpses of some good moments here and there that just fell apart thanks to not truly embracing the concept.