Year of Release: 2014
Director: Nicholas McCarthy
RATING: 3 / 5
When Nicholas McCarthy's first movie The Pact came out, I gave it a glowing review (read here). It was clearly budget-constrained yet it still did plenty right to be a good watch. Because of that, I was excited to delve into his new film, At the Devil's Door. I didn't know much about it going in, and that definitely helped my viewing experience to an extent, so I will try my best to not spoil any part of it here beyond the first 5-10 minutes.
The movie opens with a girl and a boy somewhere in the desert. The girl has decided to sell her soul to someone (I'm sure you can guess who by the film title) in exchange for a surprisingly small bundle of cash. When the transaction is complete, she goes home, and tries to shake off the experience and stash her cash away. Unfortunately, it isn't very easy for her to do so, given the invisible presence which has followed her home and is determined to show her it owns her now. Cut to the same house, empty now, being sold by the parents of a missing girl. The real estate agent responsible for selling it starts seeing the girl from the opening wandering around the house, and eventually gets entangled into whatever business was going on with the whole "soul selling" thing.
Watching this movie reminded me of eating a bag of assorted jellybeans. Some are amazing, some are OK, and then once in a while you get licorice and it makes your face pucker in disgust and ruins your whole jellybean eating experience. At the start, this movie drew me in with several things I loved. The opening was cryptic and set up the mystery in a good way, and I love horror movies where there is a mystery involved. On top of that, the movie played with the "opening scene kill" trope in a pretty interesting way which I haven't seen much before. The first few creepy moments were excellently done as well. I dug the extended scenes of hesitant glancing at the dresser (nice tension being built there), the rotating shots that reveal things in the background, the hand reaching into the dresser at an obscured angle, even the eyes. They weren't typical jump scares, they weren't even accompanied by noises, they relied entirely on old-fashioned tension and expectation. But then, buried midway down the pack, comes the licorice. What happened to this movie about halfway through I cannot even fathom, because it does a complete 180 in its fear tactics and replaces the tension with the most ridiculous, mainstream, cheesy jump scares. The culmination of this is in the hospital scene. The scares, if I can call them that, used in that scene are downright offensive and nothing the movie showed me after could have completely recovered my opinion of it. I smell studio meddling here because they were cheap and taken from other very recent horror films (of awful quality).
The villain was an equally mixed bag. Initially, I loved the way he was portrayed - always in reflections, or in the distance out of focus. The makeup worked for exactly that sort of presence, it was tastefully minimal. But then, along with the rest of the film, he took a turn toward the cheesy CGI closeups. The better side of him still made sporadic appearances until the end though, so at least it wasn't a total downhill slope. However, diversity is not his strong suit. Not one. Not two. THREE characters have absolutely identical encounters with him. It was like they wrote a single set of scare scenes and then proceeded to shoot them three times over with different actors/actresses. I did not understand the director's choice in this regard and thought it brought monotony that was in sharp contrast to the diversity that the storyline tries to endow on the film.
While the movie does use a lot of individually generic premises and plotlines, it still combined enough of them to feel somewhat fresh and new as a whole, so it does get points from me for slight originality. I liked that it had a large span and constantly attempted to change direction; it also used one of my favourite narrative film techniques from a certain 1960s horror. Unfortunately, where it ultimately ended up was at the same place as its most generic inspiration, resulting in an ending that would have been weak regardless of the final choice made by the character - both options for the ending have been done to death in other films.
At The Devil's Door is pretty much at the very threshold of quality that I would recommend. It is by no means great (and in parts not even good) yet it managed to be an entertaining enough watch throughout most of the running time.
RATING: 3 / 5