We’ve all thought about it. What would you do if you woke up tomorrow to learn aliens had made first contact? In the new sci-fi/horror anthology PORTALS, directors Eduardo Sanchez, Gregg Hale, Liam O’Donnell, and Timo Tjahjanto take that question to its tense and terrifying results.
The story begins just after the creation of the first man-made black hole. Massive black-outs are being reported worldwide, and people are starting to panic. Are the two connected? It’s too early to tell, but the men and women in one Washington 911 call center are feeling the pressure as they’re overwhelmed with calls. But it’s not just the lack of light that’s got people scared, more than one caller seems convinced that their loved one has disappeared. Perhaps they’re just lost in the darkness, but what if it’s something more?
Enter the anomalies.
More than eight-feet tall, rectangular, and pitch black, these alien forms are descending on the planet by the millions. They can be found just about anywhere. Two sisters discover one in parking garage, a man and his family have a run-in in the middle of a desert highway, even the highly secure 911 call center isn’t safe.
Whatever these things are here to do, they’re selective with who they tell. Some people, it seems, can hear voices speaking to them from within, and whatever they’re saying is very persuasive. All anyone can know for sure, is that if you get too close, these portals will pull you in. But once they pass through, where do they go?
The thing I love about anthologies is that they always seem to be made by a group of people who are truly passionate about the project. I can’t exactly put my finger on why that is, but when I think about the best the subgenre has to offer (Creepshow, Cat’s Eye, Trick ‘r Treat), they’re all steeped in the filmmaker’s love of the genre. I suppose it makes sense. Coordinating the many moving pieces on a standard film is hard enough without layering in multiple storylines, directors, and casts.
PORTALS fits nicely into this history of devoted anthology creators. Every moment of the 85 minute film feels lovingly crafted by artists fully invested in the story.
Eduardo Sanchez and Gregg Hale (of Blair Witch fame) kick things off with the first segment, “The Call Center.” The idea to begin an invasion film in a 911 call center was a stroke of genius, and I enjoyed watching the juxtaposition between the order required to work in a high stress field and the chaos that takes hold when alien technology is thrown into the mix. Sanchez and Hale never miss an opportunity to use the setting to up the tension, heightening the frantic action of the scene with an oppressive and foreboding set design.
I had the chance to speak with Sanchez earlier this week and he agreed that the choice to create an uncomfortable environment was intentional. He said the idea was to make “the interior of the call center almost like a spaceship. The walls are kind of bare. It’s very technical and looks kind of like a control center. There was nothing homey about that place.”
Every piece of the film was a joy, but I must also give a nod to Liam O’Donnell’s wraparound story, which gives the anthology much of its heart (and a fantastic performance by Neil Hopkins).
No review of an alien film would be complete without talking about the alien design. I like when a film draws from the collective mythology of its genre, and PORTALS does just that. Building off of the idea of the monolith, the film’s central threat is scary in its passivity. And yet, the seemingly static portals are kept constantly alive on screen thanks to the filmmakers use of eerie electric blue lighting that slips gracefully over their sleek black surfaces.
So could you survive the portal invasion? I suppose it all depends. There’s a chance you could avoid them, keep off the grid, and return to a simpler way of life. But even if you do, you’ll need to stay alert. It’s only a matter of time before you hear the seductive call to come explore what’s on the other side. PORTALS arrives in theaters and On Demand October 25.