Director and writer Jeremy Herbert wrote in the director statement for his new horror short THE THING ABOUT BEECHER’S GATE, “Every detail in THE THING ABOUT BEECHER’S GATE means something. The way characters stand. The way they talk. The way they live. The way they die. On the surface, it takes inspiration from the stark and grainy likes of John Carpenter’s Assault On Precinct 13. But underneath that is something you might not expect. Something, we hope, very different.”
To put it bluntly, no there really isn’t. While the best “town with a secret” movies reflect the anxieties of their times (think Get Out’s skewering of the white fetishization of black bodies, or The Stepford Wives reflections of male fears of the women’s liberation movement), THE THING ABOUT BEECHER’S GATE has no such topical theme to elevate it above the standard stay one night in a creepy house genre.
We’re first introduced to Deputy Eli Stoker in his second week on the Beecher’s Gate police force, where he is being told he must stay overnight in a shed in the middle of the woods because, “we got tradition at Beecher’s Gate and this just happens to be a kooky one.” Anybody that was forced to study Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery” in middle school, will immediately recognize that this focus on maintaining “tradition” is not going to end well for Mr. Stoker.
Stoker reluctantly enters the shed, and from this point the acting of Morgan McLeod takes over. Tasked with spending huge swaths of time talking to himself and pursuing various activities to both satisfy his curiosity and stave off his boredom, McLeod is both realistic and entertaining, believable but still fun. He is the star of this short, and unquestionably he is the star, of this short.
Eventually we are let in on the big secret that, SPOILER ALERT invisible specters hidden underneath red sheets are being given their annual sacrifice, just as tradition dictates, and this year the sacrifice role falls on Deputy Stoker.
But if Hempter says everything in the movie means something, then there has to be more to it than that right? Inside the shed, Stoker lingers on a replica painting of James Earl Fraser’s “End of the Trail.” Does this mean our red ghosts are dead Native Americans who need a sacrifice to keep from enacting their revenge? I don’t know, we never find out. There are creatures in sheets attacking a black man by slipping chains around his ankles. Does that mean our small-town sheriff is being sacrificed because of his race? I don’t know, we never find out. Instead, we are ultimately given a tired callback that “you can’t outrun tradition”, which is supposed to suffice.
The story itself leaves so many questions unanswered that once the big secret is revealed, you’ll likely be more concerned with dissecting how it could possibly work, than you will be surprised. Why does Stoker want to come to Beecher’s Gate so badly? How is Beecher’s Gate hiding all their missing police officers? How come nobody else was able to defeat these, rather fragile, enemies. Why was Stoker the first cop to be given a shotgun when that is a decided break from tradition?
These shortcomings are a shame, because stylistically the movie looks great. Starting with the opening credits in which the clinking of shotgun shells perfectly matches the unveiling of the actor’s names and eventual title card, it’s easy to see that a lot of care went into creating the movie’s shots. Given that all the interactions we have with the creatures take place within, or just outside of one room, it’s admirable how many ways Herbert keeps the tension rising without ever resorting to lazy jump scares. Herbert’s influences are clear but not derivative, the James Carpenter like soundtrack and ending, the Tarantino grindhouse style opening, and the Shymalan use of a recurring color all are well done.
THE THING ABOUT BEECHER’S GATE is that it’s well shot, well-acted (by the lead) and stylistically compelling. But, it’s hard not to think that an enthusiasm about making the movie led to a rushed story, whose flaws were overlooked in favor of a focus on piling on more fancy filming and cool looking moments.
In the end, THE THING ABOUT BEECHER’S GATE is much like its nightmarish sheet creatures; creepy, well shot, but lacking any real substance when you look just beneath the surface.