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The horror adventure of The Gatehouse as presented by director Martin Gooch is akin to entering a funhouse and not knowing what disorienting illusion you’ll come upon with each step. The Gatehouse is at its core a dark fairy tale full of cheap thrills and genuine amusement, making local carnival fun an apt comparison.

Jack, a struggling writer, is recovering from the death of his wife. His daughter, 10-year-old Eternity, loves hunting for treasure in the forest behind their home. Jack agrees to take on a writing project about the legend of the black flowers. By chance, Eternity discovers a mysterious object in the woods at the same time. Doing so has unlocked an ancient curse. The forest wants the mysterious object back and they now find themselves in a fight for their survival.

The horror adventure of The Gatehouse as presented by director Martin Gooch is akin to entering a funhouse and not knowing what disorienting illusion you’ll come upon with each step.

Unfortunately, The Gatehouse doesn’t seem to know if it’s a kids fantasy adventure like Harry Potter, a psychological drama or a gothic horror story, leading to shifts in tone that can be confusing at times.

For example, the opening of the film finds the father-daughter duo talking about buried treasure and unicorn bones in an ethereal forest touted as Elsewhere, which leads to viewer to believe this may be a magical realm inhabited by normal looking people. That assumption is revealed to be a false however, when the father, Jack, leaves for the city to beg for writing work from his agent.

It is here that the down on his luck author is given the assignment to complete an unfinished book called The Black Flowers, which causes him to be pulled into a Wicker Man meets Evil Dead style plot involving a haunted wood inhabited by a tree demon who burns a marking onto its victims.

This is hardly Jack’s movie however. Simeon Willis is fine when he is playing the loving, but barely in control single parent trying to keep his family together after the tragic death of his wife. In fact those moments of fatherly advice are the most touching in the film. But on the flip side, Willis’ dramatic work is atrocious as he is haunted by poorly shot spectral visions of his spouse and dreams within dreams that are far from innovative. Luckily he has a spunky co-star to carry the audience through the film’s run time.

The Gatehouse is truly a showcase for the young actress, Scarlett Rayner playing Jack’s daughter, Eternity. The little spitfire is the absolute star of this movie and Rayner steals every scene she is in. Eternity’s aloof, snarky, wise beyond her years attitude feels wholly authentic for a 10 year old looking to be in control of their world after the death of a parent, without her coming off as a brat. The little lisping pixie will have you smiling, even when the film hits some potholes on its journey, and it does.

Touted as a “gothic horror feature”, The Gatehouse unfortunately couldn’t scare a mouse. Whether through unconvincing performances by the cast or attempted scares that feel like parody, the tone is inconsistent throughout. This is especially true when we are confronted with a jarring dream sequence where Jack imagines mutilating his daughter for staying up to play video games, which is shocking only because it is so out of place and has no bearing on the plot. Despite these weaknesses, the film does manage to entertain, when it’s not trying to frighten us.

Gooch seems to operate best when he is directing comedic moments between the characters. There is an absolutely hilarious scene with a young librarian providing commentary to her friend on the other end of a cell phone while Eternity creeps around the book shelves that is not to be missed. Vanessa Mayfield also provides some levity as the irresponsible, greedy babysitter, Daisy who brings in her odd-ball psychic friend to read tarot cards for a 10 year old in her seemingly haunted house.

Daisy the babysitter strangely switches gears by the film’s 3rd act and becomes Velma from Scooby-Doo, providing convenient exposition she got from “the internet”. This leads to the film’s rushed finale with embarrassing CGI gunfire straight out of Birdemic. Though the lackluster special effects make the film worthy of the Mystery Science Theater 3000 treatment, one obvious MVP of the production does not.

Linal Haft as the creepy old neighbor, Farmer Sykes, is the scariest thing in the movie, even managing to outshine the gnarly horned tree monster who should be the stand-out. Showing up throughout the film like a demented Dr. Loomis from the Halloween franchise to flash a devilish grin and wheeze out a gravelly laugh, Haft perfectly presents himself as a red-herring, who turns out to be something else by the film’s conclusion.

So can two shining performances and couple of laughs qualify The Gatehouse as a recommendable film? Surprisingly, yes. It’s obvious that the cast was enjoying themselves making this film and if you don’t go into it expecting Rosemary’s Baby, but something more on the level of Joe Dante’s The Howling, you’ll enjoy yourself. The Gatehouse a whimsical spooktacular to watch by the fire with the lights down.

The Gatehouse is available 12/5 on VOD from Uncork’d Entertainment and starsĀ Scarlett Rayner, Simeon Willis, Linal Haft, Paul Freeman, Hannah Waddingham, Alix Wilton Regan, and Melissa Knatchbull. Check out the official trailer on Vimeo.

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