There’s a moment, partway through the first episode of Beyond the Walls, where you might for a moment wonder if you’re watching the French attempt Stranger Things. The demure-and clearly-hiding-something Lisa, takes to the walls of her recently-inherited-under-mysterious-circumstances house with a sledgehammer, convinced that there’s something behind them. As she punches through to discover a secret passage on the other side, you can rest assured that you’re about to be taken on a very different ride.
Where the Duffer Brothers’ Spielberg-channeling monster-fest relied on stoking the fires of nostalgia to tell a story about childhood, teenage kicks and parental angst, Beyond the Walls springs from a lineage of more adult horror. It’s understated, favouring atmosphere over gore and jump-scares, and is unafraid to tell an adult story in a contemporary setting. And by adult I mean actual adult; if you’re tuning in for sex, bad language and gratuitous nudity, you’ll be sorely disappointed.
From the moment Lisa peels back old, tattered wallpaper to reveal a rorschach-patterned layer beneath, it’s apparent the the story will be deeply personal and more than a little smart, regardless of the fantastical setting that follows. As she makes her way through the labyrinthine house without windows, trying to find the red door that will lead her to freedom, Lisa is haunted by her past, and the empty rooms, clouded reflections and strange inhabitants take on another meaning.
Like the people who inhabit them, no house is without a past, something we’re reminded of when Lisa meets her only ally, a time-lost soldier who has inhabited the strange other world of the house without widows since the First World War. To reach the red door, Lisa has to survive not only the secrets of her own past, but those of the house she has inherited.
In another way, Beyond the Walls also plays on a very real fear of the modern world: home ownership. As house prices sky-rocket and wages stall, owning a home is becoming more of a fantasy for more and more people. You can almost understand why a single, professional woman would gladly accept the inheritance of a house she could never hope to afford otherwise, with basically no questions asked.
But regardless of how Lisa comes into possession of her new house, the results still speak to a very modern anxiety around home ownership: do you own your house or does your 30 year mortgage own you? There’s more than one way to be trapped by your home, and it doesn’t always involve being time-displaced in another dimension.
So Beyond the Walls is smart, but it’s also a lot of a fun. Between it’s creepy, ink-skinned First Men, time-displaced setting and all that running down corridors, there’s more than a little Doctor Who in itsDNA. And like the best episodes of Doctor Who, it turns its constraints into storytelling strengths, creating a mood that might otherwise be smothered by big budgets and cheap scares.
Part of this mood comes down to the beautiful set pieces. The house, strung together as it is across time, is made of many rooms, each echoing an architectural style from the past, but tied together with a shared aesthetic. It’s disorientating, an anachronistic hodgepodge that is never overt, which almost unconsciously unnerves the viewer. It’s a trick employed for similar effect by It Follows, with its indeterminate, dream-logic setting.
Beyond the Walls is a show for people who like their horror smart and atmospheric. It avoids the more exploitative trappings of the genre to deliver a very adult fantasy. Considering how often the genre is written off as being immature, it’s always refreshing when unique and clever horror comes along to undermine that assumption. For that alone, Beyond the Walls deserves your attention.
Beyond The Walls is ready to chill you to your core on SBS On Demand: