Portal has high aspirations, and for that, it should be commended and ably brings the audience in with it. Sadly it never keeps up its end of the bargain, and those expectations that the audience had are never met.
Alien portals land down on earth with people getting sucked into what the media call doors. Either they never return, or they come back very different. Scientists endeavour to find out what is going on inside these “doors”. Portal takes us through the several stages of the doors time on the planet, from their first arrival to their end game for mankind.
Our lead in each story is DJ Martin Midnight (David Hemphill), who can update and almost introduce us to what we expect in the following story. He gets to star in the fourth story (which is sadly the weakest). Our opener, “Lockdown”, features a group of high school student who discovers the invasion is happening while they are stuck in their classroom. We get to see the threat of the doors and the hysteria that would surely have been going on when this first started. With believable characters from the young cast, you buy into their fear of not knowing what is going on.
We start off okay here, with the cast doing as well as they can with a clearly not written script by someone who has been around a teenager in quite some time. Throughout, the script is the apparent offender with the dialogue just not working, and it should. Here we learn about what powers the doors have on humans. They either suck the human in on a whim or lure them by speaking to them, tempting them in through the mysterious portal. Using this section to see what happens when someone enters the door is exciting, and people have different experiences.
Lamaj, depending on how much you have been concentrating and following the film, is probably the strongest for how it tries to offer us more of the theoretical side of the invasion. Jamal (Kyp Malone) has found a door and not told authorities about its existence (apparently authorities have been trying to neutralise the doors’ allure by keeping people from them. Here are attempts to communicate with the door, and he has been doing so for quite some time before one day he gets a response. If you have guessed the link to another science fiction film, you’ve guessed it, Arrival. At this point, we find out the purpose of the aliens, and while it is not executed in the best way possible; it still works well enough.
The final segment is clearly the worst as it never connects in the way intended, and with the zoom call style, there is (purposefully) even more of a disconnect. There feels as if there should be something a bit more to this one, but it does give us a tidy end to our “guides” experience throughout the invasion.
Portal is a solid enough film, and as previously mentioned, it is never going to stand out from the crowd, but with the segments never connecting as strongly as they should. There is a bit of a deflation left behind. An interesting experiment in telling one overarching story in different parts, Portal does well. Still, from seeing reviews and others opinions, the story seems to have been lost in the shuffle to some and as a film trying to connect everything together, no matter how loosely. This is a big mistake to make. A brave if severely flawed attempt.
Regardless, this is the film’s portion that offers the most information about what is going on. We find the doors can talk and that perhaps some have different purposes. Jamal invites a close friend to view his findings. She however brings her partner, disaster is undoubtedly just around the corner as the sceptic meets the believer.
Knockers has researchers delving into the portal to determine why some people change when they leave. This is, in essence, our low-key Annihilation short and one that would actually have the best growth to be far longer. Portal begins to throw in its ideas from here. If not wholly original, they are pretty interesting, as our three explorers start to experience their own personal memories that they must try to overcome.
Science fiction anthologies are not as standard as one would hope, usually venturing more towards television/streaming than in the film. Keeping the thread of the story’s evolution keeps the audience relatively on track with where the film is trying to go. For the most part, this works well. You have to concentrate a lot here as vital information is given to us almost offhand, with it being far too easy to miss it.
One of the most compelling moments in the film is when Josh Pecks Vince is venturing through his version of the portal and is entering the same room at differing times as if in a maze. The further he travels within, the more time goes by, and the more altered his surroundings become. Small changes appear, and as an audience, we tell him to stop his research and go backwards. Yet onwards, he goes further to his unknowing doom as things become more and more sinister.
While it never meets the expectations that it first presents to the viewer. This is still a solid and enjoyable piece and is most certainly worth the watch. Portal wears its influences on its sleeve, and the fact that it doesn’t hide that from the audience is thankful. If you give the film your full attention, there is most certainly something to take from it, which is more than enough for such a picture.
Signature Entertainment presents Portal on Digital Platforms and DVD 19th April.
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