Showers are pretty unsafe in horror movies. Besides the famous scene in Psycho, it seems that whenever you’re in the shower, you’ll end up having your face caved in by Jason, have alien klowns spawning from popcorn to take a bite out of you, or in the case of Jaron Henrie-McCrea’s Curtain (aka The Gateway), there will be a portal that has a thing for shower curtains. Being part of the FrightFest Presents lineup, it’s not the most horrific of premises, but horror films have worked with less and succeeded. Does the same hold true for this film?
Former nurse Danni (Danni Smith) moves into a new apartment, hoping for some reprieve from her overbearing Uncle Gus (Rick Zahn), as well as a chance to recover from burnout. Things initially aren’t great, since the previous tenant of the apartment mysteriously died in the bathroom. It gets weirder when Danni’s shower curtain inexplicably disappears. After her other shower curtains disappear in the same way, Danni learns that there’s a portal in her bathroom wall. Persuaded to investigate further by her anti-whaling friend, Tim (Tim Lueke), Danni soon attracts the attention of unsavoury and otherworldly characters during her exploration.
The one word that keeps coming up when trying to talk about Curtain is quirky. From the bare electronic keyboard soundtrack to shots like a first-person view looking up from a drain, there’s a definite strangeness to the film. The weirdness is explained to the viewer at pretty much the same rate as it’s explained to Danni, keeping the viewer interested until the end of the film. It’s definitely a film that demands your attention in order for you to understand what’s going on. Adding to the quirkiness is the film’s humour, which if the premise doesn’t seem funny, their are moments of deadpan (such as one person stopped by Tim and his anti-whaling canvasing, asking why he’s here asking for donations and not out with the other activists “if [he] really care[d]”) that did have me cracking a wry smile.
As for the performances, Smith and Lueke put forth a great effort in believability. Danni turns in a direct and cynical role, but still maintains a sense of fear with the disturbing happenings. Tim on the other hand, initially comes across as bordering on annoying with his do-gooder enthusiasm, but being contrasted by Danni helps to temper the character and make him enjoyable. They aren’t the deepest of characters, but they’re likable enough that you want to go along for the ride as they try to find out the truth.
As with any film as unorthodox as Curtain, there’s the inevitable question of accessibility. This is definitely not a traditional horror film in the straightforward sense. It’s more in line with Don Thacker’s Motivational Growth. This is one of those films that plays to a select indie crowd, which will not be to every fan’s tastes. A more pressing issue is the fact that because of its weirdness, as well as its lack of attention given to fleshing out just what the portal’s origins are, the film doesn’t have the same sort of impact a more traditional horror film. It’s more of a lighter horror film that while it contains horror elements, is never scary or grips the viewer’s attention with suspense or terror. And being a stickler for creature effects, the makeup for the demons does lean on the cheap side, despite the quick cuts attempting to obscure the fact.
Curtain isn’t a bad film, despite its oddness. Danni and Tim are great protagonists, and the humour works to add levity to the strangeness. However, the film is still plays to a niche crowd. And despite its best efforts, doesn’t have the same staying power as more traditional (and some non-traditional) horror films, demanding the viewer’s full attention in order to tell its story. It’s light fare for those who enjoy films that are outside of convention, but it’s not one that will be on every fan’s list of repeat viewings.