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The Gateway

Year: 2018
Production Co: Filmscope Entertainment
Director: John V Soto
Producer: John V Soto
Writer: John V Soto
Cast: Jacqueline McKenzie, Myles Pollard, Ben Mortley

Suburban Perth, Western Australia, couldn't be further from Hollywood. When a giant monster or a freak storm in a disaster epic descends upon Los Angeles or New York it seems kind of fitting, both of them seen as big, exciting cities where incredible things happen.

All of which makes it a bit otherworldy when something so dramatic happens on screen in a city you know. A lot of it is just how cool it is to see somewhere you know on a movie screen, but for some huge CGI battle or high-minded metaphysical sci-fi to happen in a sleepy place like Perth seems to make it even more threatening and real. Those cheesy giant monsters and buildings toppling over as the ground shakes just don't happen there, so when they do it's serious (if that makes sense).

Such a tone was most successfully executed in recent years in Zak Hilditch's sublime These Final Hours, but a decent part of the reason that film was so creatively on point is because it took its premise and characters seriously, making it an emotional drama and a doom-laden horror story as much as an end of the world disaster jam.

Another attempt at doing the same thing in such an ulikely place is The Gateway, ably written and directed on (presumably) a very low budget by John V Soto. Vetern Aussie actor Jacqueline McKenzie is Jane, a particle physicist conducting teleportation experiments by day and enjoying her loving family and beautiful home by night. Her writer husband Matt (Myles Pollard) is as supportive as he is handsome, and the only potential dark spot in Jane's life is the deadline imposed by her backers, putting her and co-worker Regg (Ben Mortley) under extra pressure to deliver.

With some good VFX given the budget (probably just a couple of million, given the previous output of the production company behind it), Jane and Regg crack the impossible, spontaneously sending an object between the two chambers in their lab, having teleported it through space.

But Jane soon discovers there's more to it than that. It takes time for the object (a humble apple) to reappear, and they soon figure out it's been to a parallel universe. The discovery is more groundbreaking than they thought possible, exceeding even the awesome scope of their brief, and before they tell anyone Jane's already delaying, wondering how they can put such incredible new knowledge to work in more than just filling their boss's coffers.

The opportunity presents itself not long after in the worst way when Matt is killed by a car while riding his bicycle. Emotionally distraught and unable to let go months later, Jane hits upon an idea that makes perfect sense to her broken heart no matter how insane it is. She'll travel to one of the nearby parallel realities her and Regg have uncovered, convince the iteration of her husband she finds there to return with her and give the family its husband and father back.

The other world looks and feels much the same despite the slightly dull cast across the sky, constant sirens in the distance and fighter planes over the city a lot of the time. In his world, the other Matt has similarly lost Jane to an accident, so the symmetry couldn't be more perfect. He accompanies her back to her own reality and Jane and the kids try to keep Matt's existence a secret while getting on with their lives.

But this Matt is subtly different. Delivered with a very good performance in both roles by Pollard, the Matt Jane lost is smiling and sweet, like an oversized teddy bear. The Matt she's bought back with her has a darkness, a stiffness, a sense of menace. The kids soon realise that although they love their Dad, they don't really feel comfortable around this new guy.

It's not much of a mystery where it's all going to go from there, but none of that takes away from the pleasure of seeing a hard science fiction story play out among the suburbs, sports fields and magpie calls during sunrise we know from urban Australia. It contains a lot of the rough edges you often see in independent movies made this far from the centres of infrastructure that produces most of the world's cinema these days, but the earnestness makes up for it. Director Soto and his producers have stretched every dollar they have far enough to give The Gateway enough of a sense of scope, and the intelligent script and acting do the rest.

Along with the blink-and-you-missed-it release of James Ward Byrkit's Coherence, it's another entry into a very small genre (parallel universe sci-fi in the suburbs) that's thoroughly enjoyable.

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