Portal review – close encounters of the disappointing kind

A million alien portals open on Earth in this trio of sci-fi shorts – but the effect is bland, not awe-inspiring

Here’s a close encounter of the disappointing kind, an anthology movie featuring a trio of sci-fi shorts from the crew behind the V/H/S horror films. Released in the US as Doors but renamed Portal for the UK, the three films together tell an alien-contact story set on Earth after a million portals open up – giant doors that look like they’re covered with shimmery iron-filings from school science experiments. Whatever planet they hail from, the portals do not appear to come in peace; half the world’s population vanish into them.

The best of the shorts is number three, titled Lamaj, which stars TV on the Radio’s Kyp Malone as Jamal, a gentle and thoughtful scientist with a lustrous beard who lives alone in a cabin in the woods. Like Amy Adams’s linguist character in Arrival, Jamal communicates with the portals, and invites another scientist – his ex – over to share the moment. They stand there, eyes shining, faces radiant with the pure pleasure of scientific discovery. Then the cops turn up.

The second segment, Knockers by Saman Kesh, is the flimsiest. It’s set weeks after the portals’ appearance, when teams of young gung-ho volunteers are being sent into the portals for research. They have 12 minutes inside to gather data; stay any longer and they risk getting “doors psychosis”. It’s a nonsensical film shot with Michel Gondry-style visual trickery, following two volunteers, a young couple (played by Lina Esco and Josh Peck), having a bad trip in a portal.

The opener depicts the arrival, that apocalyptic moment when everyone realises Something is Wrong. It’s filmed from the point of view of a bunch of kids in detention – seriously freaked out when birds start slamming against the window, military helicopters buzzing overhead. The three pieces of the science-fiction puzzle fit together to make a bland, incurious picture with little awe at the universe.

• Portal is released on 19 April on digital platforms


Cath Clarke

The GuardianTramp

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