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At the Devil's Door
IFC Films // Unrated // August 8, 2014
List Price: Unknown [Buy now and save at Fandango]
The horror front has been rather quiet over the year 2014, but fortunately, independent filmmakers continue to keep the genre afloat. Writer/director Nicholas McCarthy's first feature-length picture The Pact was relatively well-received, leaving many audiences eager to see his newest picture. At the Devil's Door once again explores the supernatural, as many modern genre features currently do. The unknown appears to be feared by domestic audiences, although this sub-genre has most certainly developed its share of clichés that moviegoers are starting to reject. Is McCarthy able to once again ignite this low flame, or does it simply sizzle out into disappointment? His ideas are marvelous, but the execution could use some work.
When ambitious young real estate agent Leigh (Catalina Sandino Moreno) is asked to sell a house, she quickly accepts. However, she soon discovers that it has a checkered past, as she crosses paths with a disturbed girl (Ashley Rickards). When Leigh tries to come to the girl's aid, she becomes involved with a supernatural force that also pulls her sister, Vera (Naya Rivera), into a web of violence and terror. The entity proves to have sinister plans for the two sisters.
The first act follows a teenage girl, who has developed a crush on a boy that she met while on vacation in California. After making a dark pact, she discovers that the supernatural is actually real. However, writer/director Nicholas McCarthy's screenplay continues to make time jumps between the past and the present in order to piece together this ever-growing puzzle. While it isn't difficult to figure out what the entity wants, we're more interested in learning more about the protagonists, which is surely a nice change of pace. Even though we learn very little about this teenage girl, we can't help but want her to overcome this evil that terrorizes her. Once we reach the relationship held between Leigh and Vera, the film finds itself on a downward slope. The characterizations become lazy, and the dialogue gets downright laughable. Each main character introduced proves to be more uninteresting than the last. The teenager and Leigh are worthy protagonists, but Vera feels so closed off from the audience, that it becomes difficult to connect with her. The concept of having multiple main female protagonists throughout the running time is intriguing, but there are large flaws in the execution, especially as the picture continues.
At the Devil's Door doesn't waste any time, as it quickly places us in the eerie atmosphere that we're all craving. McCarthy's screenplay is quite consistent in its tense delivery of creepy material. Each time this entity speaks to its victims, you're sure to look over your shoulder. It often has the Jaws-effect, where we always feel a presence, even though we cannot see it. This is a very powerful thing that McCarthy constantly uses to his advantage. In fact, he keeps the antagonist hidden for nearly the entire running time. Even when he does give us a glimpse, it's just that - a glimpse. He leaves our minds to create the entity for him, as we continue to fear something that we cannot see. There are a lot of these movies out there, so what sets this apart from the rest? While the filmmaker utilizes some of the jump scares that we would expect, he primarily creates thrills and chills with the use of the atmosphere, rather than loud noises. At the Devil's Door doesn't necessarily push the envelope quite as far as I had hoped, although it's definitely a step further than most modern horror films.
As the picture moves into its final act, it takes on a completely different perspective and tone that doesn't quite fit in with the remainder of the picture. It trades the "creep" factor for a cat-and-mouse chase that feels rather contrived. This is the time to go absolutely bonkers with chilling sequences that lead to a conclusion for our leads. However, it feels rather open-ended, but in a "not so good" kind of way. Instead of simply leaving us with questions, it feels as if there isn't an actual ending. The credits simply start rolling, and you'll find yourself wondering where the rest of the movie went. It doesn't leave us with anything to discuss, nor does it end on a note that will have us sleeping with the lights on. This is a shame, since the first two acts offer some promise for quite the conclusion. This feels more like an alternate ending on a DVD or Blu-ray more than it does the final cut. Perhaps others will find it more acceptable, but it didn't work for me.
What McCarthy lacks in storytelling, he makes up for in atmosphere. There is a constant sense of doom that haunts the picture, and somehow radiates into the room in which you're watching this in. It all feels somewhat claustrophobic, as we remain locked within the perspective of the three protagonists in rather small spaces. Even though the jump scares are predictable, they still prove to be effective. By providing the small glimpses of this entity, our minds take it to a whole other terrifying place. If only more horror films took more care with the overall atmosphere, as McCarthy has so wonderfully accomplished. This is definitely one to watch with all of the lights off.
At the Devil's Door has a lot of great ideas, but they aren't all carried out as well as one would hope. The concept of having three protagonists that face the same entity is interesting, although the stilted characterizations ultimately leave us wanting to see more of others, and less of Vera. As far as the scare factor goes, this won't keep me awake at night, but it most certainly creates more than a few chills while watching. Writer/director Nicholas McCarthy proves to have a great hand at visual storytelling, but the final act doesn't feel consistent with the remainder of the picture. Regardless, this is still an entertaining watch with a truly eerie atmosphere. At the Devil's Door has great ideas, but the execution leaves something to be desired. Rent it.