[CFF 2022] GATEWAY Review - A Drug Dealer is Haunted by the Past in Niall Owens’ Debut Feature
Ashley Anderson says Gateway director Niall Owens blends minimal special effects and an eerie score creatively to convey an extraordinary story.
Gateway is the psychological thriller and the narrative feature debut from writer and director Niall Owens. The film focuses on the unusual, potentially supernatural happenings inside a grow house that Mike (Tim Creed) has secured for him and his friends to grow weed. The film is a little slow-moving and heavily relies on the timing of sound to build tension, but it does so effectively. The film also stars Laurence Ubong Williams and Fiona Hardy.
Early on, the film focuses on defining the relationships between the group of friends. It becomes clear from the start that most of them are transactional due to past events that created distrust. Mike and the others reference the importance of paying someone several times, “You know what happens if we don’t pay.” Though not stated, the group seems to have ties to organized crime, adding to the tension. The house serves as a set piece for testing their relationships and revealing the trauma they’ve experienced. Almost immediately upon entering this house, the film's supernatural elements begin to reveal themselves.
Director of photography Ger Murphy executes his camera work perfectly, and the special effects are minimal but effective in casting a distrustful aura. When Eddie (Williams) reveals that his father has passed away, he hints that Mike and pills were involved. The editing and visual effects help create the illusion of supernatural activity, aided by the film’s score. While in a trance at the house, Eddie has visions of his father taking pills and pulling things from a backpack while he was alive before the shot transitions back to Eddie.
Gateway relies heavily on its score to communicate the emotion and tension of the characters. The film has little dialogue, so the music really holds it together. Composer Tony Langlois outdoes himself here. Not only does the music have immense power here, but the importance of silence is also understood. The music is a crucial element in indicating the events and relationships between characters.
Gateway’s outstanding score, story, and captivating cinematography are a tribute to Owens’ craft and knowledge of the genre. The film delivers fear stylishly like the horror classics we’ve all come to love, allowing audiences to imagine their worst fears instead of showing them. For these reasons, the film will stand the test of time as a unique testament to the haunted house trope.
Gateway had its North American premiere at the Chattanooga Film Festival on June 26, 2022.