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At the Devil's Door

MPI Home Video // Unrated // December 16, 2014
List Price: $29.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Jeremy Biltz | posted January 31, 2015 | E-mail the Author
The Movie:
It is a widely held belief that selling one's soul to the devil, even in jest, is a very bad idea. This goes double in a horror movie, but young Hannah (Ashley Richards) is more interested in the wad of cash she's offered, and the sweet kicks she can buy with it, than in protecting her immortal soul. Thus begins Nicholas McCarthy's At the Devil's Door. It's more interesting than your standard devil movie, but has some flaws, in particular a somewhat squishy third act.

Soon after going to the crossroads and saying her name (also probably not a good idea) to seal the deal, Hannah starts to see and hear strange things in the house. She hears her name called when no one else is home, and can't seem to get rid of that wad of money, even after she decides she no longer wants any part of the deal. The spawn of hell can be sticklers that way.

Flash forward a few years, and we find Leigh (Catalina Sandino Moreno), a young, driven real estate agent, trying to sell a house, and we soon find that it's the same house that Hannah had her troubles in. Soon enough, Leigh has some strange experiences, and has a few odd conversations with Hannah in the otherwise empty abode. Leigh's semi-estranged sister Vera (Naya Rivera, of Glee fame) gets pulled into the web of diabolism as well, and all three women must struggle with the unnamed demonic force.

At the Devil's Door is different from most films in a number of ways, but the primary one is that it doesn't really have one lead role, it has three: Hannah, Leigh and Vera. The film focuses on each in roughly that order, with flashbacks providing information at the appropriate time as the story moves forward. Because of this, it works almost a three intertwined short films. This has advantages and disadvantages, but the main drawback is that we never get to really know and therefore identify with any of them. They are generally empathetic characters and likeable, but we don't have much time to make that connection.

Regardless, the film performs its main job well: discomfiting the audience. There's lots of tension here. McCarthy knows how to use the tools of the genre to good effect, and mounts a philosophical defense of the jump scare in the commentary. He knows the mechanics of how to creep out the audience, though at times he shows a bit too much, e.g. in the "demon rape" sequences. Those would have been much more effective left to the audience's imagination, not that they weren't executed effectively. They were, but not as well as our minds could have conjured up. And while McCarthy knows his way around a tension hook, he doesn't have as much skill with the underlying storytelling skills.

For instance, there is a serious discrepancy in how Hannah becomes entangled with the demon, and how Leigh and Vera do. The fairly complex things that Hannah has to do, from the shell game with Uncle Mike, to saying her name at the crossroads, implies that at least a putative act of self-offering is necessary, but neither Leigh nor her sister do anything of the kind. So, can the demon snag anyone nearby who catches his fancy, or do they have to "sell their soul"?

Also, the tri-part structure doesn't leave a lot of room for character arcs, so the climax is rushed and unsatisfying, and even somewhat mystifying. But this brings us to another bright spot in the film, the performances of the three female leads. Moreno, Rivera and Rickards are all excellent. They are subtle, natural and believable. The sibling relationship between Leigh and Vera is great, tense and sniping at times, but full of affection nonetheless. In a genre that sometimes has less than stellar acting turns, it's a real treat to see professionals at the top of their game.

With all that said, At the Devil's Door is something of a mixed bag. It's certainly scary and well executed, but the story could have been more focused and consistent. I'll call it Recommended.


The image is 2.40:1 anamorphic widescreen, and looks pretty good. There's mild posterization throughout, but otherwise no flaws or problems. The colors are muted (as appropriate for the subject matter) but rich and deep. This is a good looking film and well presented on Blu-ray.

Audio is dts-HD Master Audio 5.1 channel, and sounds great. There are always soft rustling sounds, whispers, creaking doors, etc. in this kind of movie, and here they are presented well. Incidents like Hannah's name being whispered are played just right, at the edge of hearing but clear enough that we get it. Subtitles are included in English and Spanish, but no alternate language track.

A number of extras are included. They are:

Speaking of the Devil: The Making of At the Devil's Door
This featurette runs to eighteen minutes, and has interviews with McCarthy and Moreno, and has some interesting stories, including about the cab ride that gave McCarthy the idea for the movie in the first place, as well as the casting process and influences on the film.

Deleted Scenes
Seven deleted scenes are included, with optional commentary from McCarthy. Most of these were cut for time or tone, but they are still interesting.

This is an effective trailer, and doesn't give away too much.

Commentary with Writer / Director Nicholas McCarthy
Nicholas McCarthy has a calm and soothing voice, and his commentary is intermittently interesting. He talks about the writing process, his career after The Pact, set anecdotes and his approach to filmmaking. This is where it is most interesting, when he talks about his "four takes max" rule and his defense of jump scares and other genre tricks. This isn't anything extraordinary, but it adds to the experience.

Final Thoughts:
There's a lot to like in At the Devil's Door, but it's far from perfect. But the skill with which McCarthy wields the tools of the horror film director is enough to justify a viewing, and the great performances are a bonus. Check this one out.

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