In Memoriam 1942 – 2013 “Roger Ebert loved movies.”

RogerEbert.com

Thumb wildlife

Wildlife

One never senses judgment from Dano, Kazan, Gyllenhaal, or Mulligan—they recognize that there’s beauty even in the mistakes we make in life. It’s what makes…

Thumb can forgive

Can You Ever Forgive Me?

Can You Ever Forgive Me? comes from a place of understanding and love that few other biopics do, and it makes this difficult character a…

Other Reviews
Review Archives
Thumb xbepftvyieurxopaxyzgtgtkwgw

Ballad of Narayama

"The Ballad of Narayama" is a Japanese film of great beauty and elegant artifice, telling a story of startling cruelty. What a space it opens…

Other Reviews
Great Movie Archives

Reviews

At the Devil's Door

At the Devil's Door Movie Review
  |  

With "At the Devil's Door," up-and-coming horror filmmaker Nicholas McCarthy makes good on the promise of "The Pact," a moody but underdone ghost story. It's not flawless: some of the big scares feel monotonous, and much of the dialogue errs on the side of corn ("He wants to be all of someone," a character murmurs) or blatant theme-polishing (talk radio banter and heinous expository dialogue repeatedly assure us that "At the Devil's Door" is about the American economic recession). But the movie is so consistently moody, and so focused on driving you towards a gut-punch finale, that even valid complaints seem negligible in retrospect. 

Advertisement

McCarthy's film kicks off in 1987 with an overlong, bombastic prologue. Waifish teen Hanna (Ashley Rickards) agrees to play an ominous shell-game with her boyfriend's creepy trailer trash uncle and unwittingly sells her soul to the devil for $500. Then she goes home and is attacked by a mysterious shadow. Then comes the title card, and we skip ahead to the present, where a realtor named Leigh (Catalina Sandino Moreno) learns that one of her listings was the site of a bizarre suicide. Now it's up to her artist sister Vera (Naya Rivera of "Glee") to figure out what happened and why it's happening again.

McCarthy takes his time revealing information, so it takes a little while for Vera to become the main character in "At the Devil's Door." The film's story is a relay race: control of the plot is handed off to each of the three main characters, but only after each woman has seen a ghost. For this reason, McCarthy doesn't always seem to be in control of his film, a fact compounded by too-blunt dialogue, as when Leigh explains to a prospective buyer, "I know I can get you a good house, even with all the bad news out there."  

But as the plot thickens, McCarthy's grasp starts matching his reach. Until then, creepy atmosphere, and gorgeous cinematography (courtesy of director of photography Bridger Nielson) put the film through its paces. It also helps that McCarthy has a recipe-specific collection of tropes in minds for his film's climactic but puzzling scare scenes: an out-of-focus, man-shaped shadow; a circular smudge on the floor; women suspended in mid-air by an invisible force; a frightened little girl in a red slicker straight out of "Don't Look Now." McCarthy liberally recycles these images in Vera, Hanna, and Leigh's respective story arcs, but before the film threatens to become monotonous, McCarthy breaks his film's cycle of shared generic motifs and confidently steers the film towards a devastating, dialogue-free confrontation that's easily one of the creepiest, most haunting sequences in a recent American horror cinema.

"At the Devil's Door" reminds me of an early John Carpenter film in that its characters are not, as Carpenter once put it, "[referring] to characters in other movies." They do share a certain quality with Carpenter's characters, though: they are simply conceived people whose actions tell you everything you need to know about them. You'll remember McCarthy's name after this one.

Advertisement

Popular Blog Posts

Who do you read? Good Roger, or Bad Roger?

This message came to me from a reader named Peter Svensland. He and a fr...

Netflix’s Terrifying, Moving The Haunting of Hill House is Essential Viewing

A review of Mike Flanagan's new horror series based on the Shirley Jackson novel, The Haunting of Hill House.

Always Leave 'Em Laughing: Peter Bogdanovich on Buster Keaton, superheroes, television, and the effect of time on movies

Peter Bogdanovich, film historian and filmmaker, talks about Buster Keaton, the subject of his new documentary.

Why The Godfather, Part II is the Best of the Trilogy

A look back at one of the best films of all time.

Reveal Comments
comments powered by Disqus