“Call Center Part I” and “II,” directed by Eduardo Sanchez and Gregg Hale, respectively, fares slightly better, if by an atomic particle. This chapter – from the duo who brought us The Blair Witch Project, in case you were questioning credibility by this point – transports us to a 911 call center set in Washington, D.C., which is getting bombarded by calls about the monoliths. When one of those pesky alien f*****s appears in their own building, poor Stan (Paul McCarthy-Boyington) falls under its spell – and forces his colleagues to do the same under gunpoint. The melodramatic ending is predictable and yawn-inducing; again, there’s absolutely nothing new here, but at least the narrative makes sense, and McCarthy-Boyington gives it his all.
Timo Tjahjanto’s “Sarah” is the most effective of the three, which is not saying much. We’re introduced to sisters Jill (Natasha Gott) and Sarah (Salvita Decorte), arguing in a parking garage in Jakarta, Indonesia (neat trick, that, making the film seem more expansive). Sarah wants to be a teacher despite her sister’s doubts. When Jill tells her she’s pregnant, Sarah declares: “I don’t want to be an aunt. I’m sick and tired of being everyone’s consolation prize.” And then she drops the bomb: “You’re starting a family… and I just lost mine.” Next thing, all the car sirens are going off, and Jill goes all “Carrie,” leading a pack of alien/zombie folks to the monolith. “Can you hear it, Sarah?” she rasps, like the tethered in Us. “It’s calling us.” Hysterics ensue, with a potential reunion with a lost family member.
“What is the portal? you may ask. According to the filmmakers’ varying perspectives, it’s a door to ‘the other side’…”
What is the portal? you may ask. According to the filmmakers’ varying perspectives, it’s a door to “the other side,” but also a “mirror,” with the capacity to turn people into zombies, while/or providing them with “insight,” be it into their pasts or futures or… whatever. You get my drift: who cares. When things are this disjointed and hackneyed, with shoddy acting to top it off, investment dissipates quickly. “Is this even real?” a character inquires. “Does it even matter?” another replies. Exactly.
For a decent, sci-fi/horror anthology flick, check out David Bruckner, Dan Bush, and Jacob Gentry’s The Signal. While flawed, it has truly powerful elements, and a coherent, darkly comedic tone tying the disparate proceedings. Despite the involvement of some skilled filmmakers, Portals is a cinematic black hole – vacuous and barely perceptible in the vastness of space lit with far brighter stars.
"…'Is this even real?' a character inquires. 'Does it even matter?'"