AT THE DEVIL’S DOOR (2014)
I am a fan of writer/director Nicholas McCarthy’s first feature, the surprisingly effective The Pact. It had it’s flaws, but it was very spooky, used some familiar horror conventions well and had a few surprises. When I heard he was working on a second feature, originally titled Home, I was anxious to see what he had up his sleeve next.
Now re-titled At The Devil’s Door, McCarthy brings us another tale of supernatural horror this time involving a demonic entity and those who have the misfortune of coming into contact with it. The film opens in the 80s with a young woman (Ashley Rickards) playing a strange game with an equally strange man (Michael Massee) in the middle of the desert for $500. She wins and is thus told she has been ‘chosen’ and to her horror, she realizes an evil presence has now followed her home. We cut to modern day where realtor Leigh (Catalina Sandino Moreno) is tasked to sell a house in foreclosure. The same house that once housed the girl we met from years earlier. But there is a dark presence still within in that empty home which has now targeted Leigh and her younger sister Vera (Glee’s Naya Rivera). And the more the history of the house and those that lived there is looked into, the more danger the sisters appear to be in from a malevolent force that has now ‘chosen’ one of them.
Much like with The Pact, McCarthy crafts a very unsettling chiller that is not without a few flaws, but certainly the spooky goods far outweigh those flaws. Again he uses some very familiar horror movie trappings, but uses them well. It’s a creepy mix of Rosemary’s Baby, The Omen and with a touch of Paranormal Activity. It also reminded me slightly of Oculus from earlier this year, as it did employ flashbacks to fill in blanks in the story and briefly involved a mirror, but I believe that is purely coincidental and the overall story is quite different. McCarthy creates some very chilling atmosphere and his simple old school visual style is quite effective in enhancing that. I liked that his FX are mostly done in camera with good old fashion smoke and mirrors and the man certainly knows how to build tension and gives us a few good scares. The film’s flaws come in that the story sometimes jumps forward giving the impression that certain plot elements where achieved a bit too easily or persons found too quickly. And as such, they don’t resonate as much as they could when they seem to come about with so little effort. We could have used a bit more of the investigation aspects of the story so things had the illusion of some degree of difficulty to increase their dramatic weight. I’m also not sure I quite bought certain elements that set up the last act, but to discuss details would be unfair to those who want to go in knowing as little as possible, which I recommend. Suffice to say there are a few little plot holes that might evoke some questions, but nothing detrimental to the overall effect of this very unsettling film. There is also some nice cinematography by Bridger Neilson and an effective score by Ronen Landa to add to the overall mood.
McCarthy gets good work from a fairly small cast. Moreno is likable as Leigh. She’s an ambitious young woman, but one that has her own inner dramas and when it seems she’s unknowingly walked into contact with something malicious, her fear seems genuine as is our concern for her. Rivera also gives us a likable character in the artistic younger sister Vera, who is even less prepared to deal with this demonic entity especially since she is also unaware that she has been targeted. When the film switches focus to her in the second half, she handles it well as she begins to investigate into what is going on and why. The rest of the supporting cast do well in their parts including a brief appearance by Rob Zombie favorite Daniel Roebuck as the eager to sell homeowner and a creepy turn by young Ava Acres as a little girl who figures into the story later on.
Overall, I liked At The Devil’s Door. Not a major improvement over The Pact, but McCarthy is showing growth as a filmmaker and writer and it is a very spooky and moody little horror and one of the better ones I’ve seen so far this year. I think there are some very good things to come from McCarthy if he maintains his progression and, at the very least, he has delivered two spooky chillers so far. There’s a charm to his ability to make entertaining use of some traditional horror elements and his style is refreshingly simply and old school. A recommended horror, as is The Pact if you still haven’t seen that.
3 red raincoats.