Portal (2021)

Jeff Desom, Saman Kesh, Dugan O'Neal

Running Time: 84 Minutes

Certification: 15

Starring: Josh Peck, Wilson Bethel, Lina Esco, Kyp Malone, Kathy Khanh, Julianne Collins, Kristina Lear, Dugan O'Neal, Bira Vanara, Aric Floyd, Rory Anne Dahl

Among the annals of cinema, alien invasions movies are a dime a dozen. This time around, the invading beings are known as "doors", serving as portals which take humans away to an unknown reality. Serving as co-writers and directors, the trio of Jeff Desom, Saman Kesh, and Dugan O'Neal have crafted an anthology film, detailing the days of different people affected by this seismic change, trying to unlock the mysteries of these doors.

Taking place on the initial day where everything changes, the first segment is called Lockdown. Set within a school, we see four kids in detention, before the day takes a strange turn. Before they know it, the teacher leaves the room in a worry, mysterious sounds occur outside the building, and the mobile phones can't stop vibrating with messages. It's an interesting little chamber-piece, as we witness the world outside going to pieces from such a limited perspective. While some more time devoted to character work would've been beneficial, what we have is a solid short film, and an interesting hint at larger things in play.

Following that is the next segment titled Knockers, which may disappoint any expectations involving the British slang term. After the opening segment, this one has higher aims, following a research unit who venture forth into the Doors. The main focus are a couple, portrayed by Josh Peck and Lina Esco, and while they initially seem too jokey, you become invested in what happens to them. Becca is the rock to Vince's wave, and you believe their relationship from how well these leads sell it. As they dive into these cosmic anomalies for exploration, what unfolds makes for an interesting watch, if not unremarkable. Most distracting is how much text gets thrown on the screen, which can add to the aesthetic at times, while also being a clumsy method to fill in some blanks.

Rounding off the film is the last segment, entitled Lamaj. Taking place during Day 101, this follows a scientist doing his own experiments with a Door, who shares in his findings with a close-friend and her boyfriend. After two segments which mostly worked, it's unfortunate this segment seemingly exists to frustrate audiences. Be it the unnecessary need to spell out answers, or how underwritten characters randomly pop up to make dumb decisions, this is lacklustre stuff. Following on from each segment, we see interstitials attempting to flesh out this crisis, as we see how parts of the world are affected. It's a nice idea undermined by the voiceover, as a conspiracy theorist delivers awkward exposition which could've been woven into the narrative more neatly. This is weakest in the final moments, as the worst elements are exacerbated, and unfortunately veer on the side of cartoonish.

What's been created is a film with many ideas, bringing to mind Annihilation and Arrival, while falling short of reaching either feature. The most interesting elements involves the newly arrived beings, referred to as Doors, affecting various people. These unknown entities are brought alive so vividly, as they favour worming their way into people's minds, preying on their insecurities and past memories. It's captured rather well with an interesting sound design, as mysterious imagery is mixed with on-screen words showcasing their manipulative tactics, before time passes, and their methods are depicted in larger ways. Most unfortunate is how, amongst the characters growing fears of this unknown entity, the sense of fear never translates onto screen, and allows viewers to share in that feeling. This is a missed opportunity, leaving the film to feel like a portal to general disappointment.

Portal is available on Digital Platforms and DVD from 19th April