Portal is at its best and most interesting when it explores the dynamic of a ghost hunter TV show and the conflict that exists between proving the existence of an afterlife and producing an entertaining programme. A number of engaging turns in the cast (particularly from Ryan Merriman and Jamie Tisdale) help keep the film’s downtime engaging between the expected horror moments. A well-chosen locale helps with a number of moments of dread and there feels a genuine attempt at finding a plausible reason for individuals’ interest in ghosts.
At times Portal resembles a TV pilot, both for better and worst. Director Dean Alioto spends plenty of time setting up his roster of ghost hunters, giving them backstories and character quirks (aided by a witty script co-written with the prolific Peter Dukes). The characters feel better developed then some other indie horrors. But the film becomes rushed in its second half, struggling to find a satisfying conclusion for the effective early work of the film.
Genre fans may find Portal frustratingly tame and one can’t help wish the film would cut loose and have a little bit more fun with its concept. For all the good work done in the early stages, the last act lacks the punch needed, feeling a tad too rushed. But it does contain a treat for A Nightmare on Elm Street fans, with Heather Langenkamp (none other than Nancy!) taking on a key late stage role (that I shan’t ruin here).
At its best Portal manages to find some interesting elements to add to both the ghost genre and the surprisingly bountiful ghost-hunters-find-real-ghosts subgenre. While the second half can’t quite tie everything together the film remains compelling, with ambitions that exceed its more limited budget.