Portal Runner Image

Portal Runner

By Bradley Gibson | December 6, 2021

Director Cornelia Duryée’s delightful Portal Runner reminds us that a horrorscience-fiction-family-Christmas movie can be a fun place to spend the holidays. It’s Christmas Eve, 1999, and teenager Nolan (Sloane Morgan Siegel) steps into our dimension through a portal formed by a mirror. He’s been on the run through parallel universes for a long time, barely escaping the clutches of a monster that’s chasing him.

Nolan comes from a family of inventors and tinkerers. Unfortunately, an accident with a dimensional containment unit (think Ghostbusters ghost trap) released the monster, forcing him to flee his home dimension. When Nolan arrives in a new place, he focuses on gathering food and weapons and smashes all the mirrors he can find. Each dimension is a slight variant of the others, with small details different.

However, this time, there’s a big difference when he discovers a sister he’s never seen before, Mae (Elise Eberle). She is a force of nature unto herself and has the typical angst and emotional dynamics of any teenager. But she’s also fearless and extremely capable. Nolan finds in her a powerful ally, and together they create a plan to stop the monster and restore balance amongst the universes.

While Nolan hadn’t been to a world before where he had a sister, Mae had never known her father, Randall (Matt Shimkus), who disappeared when she was five. All these tidbits become relevant as the secrets of the dimensional accident are slowly revealed. It turns out that no one is exactly who they appear to be. Typical family tropes are subverted.

“…an accident with a dimensional containment unit released the monster, forcing Nolan to flee his home dimension.”

Even though Portal Runner doesn’t give them much to do, Nolan’s mother, Klara (Carol Roscoe), and brother, Boon (Brian Lewis), are still relevant to the story as the finale unfurls. There’s a great running gag with Boon being obsessed with preparing for the imminent end of the world as the Y2K bug looms, only one week away. But, of course, the catastrophe that’s coming has nothing to do with Y2K. We are also treated to a 1990s Sham-Wow parody starring the Star Trek Voyager Medical Hologram, Robert Picardo.

The vibe is reminiscent of Rare Exports, another Christmas horror classic that should be in your holiday rotation. Setting the film in the recent past also gives it a Gremlins-style ambiance. The mechanics of multiple universes should be familiar to genre fans who love Rick and Morty and the multiverse currently being explored in the MCU. The short run time (1 hr 12 min) compresses the pace, and the editing is lively, never letting up on the action. Eberle and Siegel carry the film as the leads, creating a believable sister/brother energy as they get to know each other. Ultimately, the film pivots on this relationship.

Holiday fare can be either in the form of predictable but classic films we watch every year like It’s a Wonderful Life or Christmas Vacation or the bland festive offerings of A Christmas Story meant to warm the heart but could put you to sleep. Dark fantasy set at Christmas brings a breath of fresh air into an overwrought season of wholesomeness-overload.

Making Portal Runner family-friendly was a stroke of genius on the part of screenwriter J.D. Henning. It turns out that Nolan is only staying one step ahead of the evil pursuing him until he finds a version of his family capable of banding together and fighting back. Mae is the crucial element to bringing him in from the cold. It is heartwarming but also a*s-kicking. You can’t ask much more from a Christmas movie.

Portal Runner (2021)

Directed: Cornelia Duryée

Written: J.D. Henning

Starring: Elise Eberle, Sloane Morgan Siegel, Carol Roscoe, Brian Lewis, etc.

Movie score: 8/10

Portal Runner Image

"…heartwarming, but also a*s-kicking."

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  1. Riba says:

    Yeah,but where is the other Nolan?
    The Nolan of Mae’s dimension?

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