Putting together a cinematic anthology presents quite a challenge. A disparate set of auteurs, bound by a subject or genre, tends to lead to uneven results. Genius directors have attempted – and failed (see: “artistic” odes to cities, Paris, je t’aime, and its lackluster sequels). Not-so-genius directors have attempted – and failed (see: exploitation-like horror V/H/S and its lackluster sequels). Now four B-level filmmakers attempt to fuse together three science fiction tales that resemble the bargain-basement fright flicks of the latter “infamous helmers.” (For more of these types of films, feel free also to see: Creepshow, Body Bags, Southbound, Trick ‘r Treat, The ABCs of Death and its two sequels…the list goes on and on.) In the oversaturated anthology sub-category of cinema, Portals fails to stand out.
It’s a shame that the film resorts to cheap horror gimmicks when its concept – that of mysterious portals appearing on Earth – presents so much room for intriguing, existential deliberations. But no, instead, we get several graphic sequences of eye-gouging; a smashing of a skull with a fire-extinguisher, Irreversible-style; a character bashing another’s brains out with a car door; zombified characters spewing blood; and, yes, an exploding head. I know horror aficionados are most likely rejoicing at those words, but the sci-fi geek in me was sorely disappointed.
“…a cosmic disruption… trigger[s] worldwide blackouts, followed by the arrival of rectangular objects…”
The narrative intercuts between three separate storylines, set in 2020, hours before, or after, the invasion. Man has created a black hole, leading to mysterious “shifts in geological data” and “software malfunctions” all over the globe. Consequently, a “cosmic disruption… trigger[s] worldwide blackouts,” followed by the arrival of rectangular objects that are mirror images of the 2001 monoliths.
The film’s chief segment, Liam O’Donnell’s “The Other Side,” is also its weakest. Set in Lancaster, California, it follows Adam (Neil Hopkins), who’s trying to escape from the (allegedly) alien invasion with his family. Alas, he smashes their car into one of those damn monoliths. Next thing Adam knows, he’s in a hospital, half-blind, looked after by an enigmatic nurse, Leslie (Deanna Russo), and the evil Dr. Markonen (Ptolemy Slocum). Oh, and Markonen is after Adam’s now-alien, all-knowing eyeball. The director – who’s known primarily for co-writing the spectacular bomb that was Skyline – fails to infuse the narrative with any sort of momentum, relying on cheap, “trippy” gimmicks to move his story along. There’s no character progression, nothing is explained, yet the audience is assaulted with a ton of pointless exposition, wooden acting, and a hilarious ending that’s supposed to be tantalizingly ambiguous but instead reeks of desperation.