At the Devil's DoorReviewed By Jay Seaver
Posted 07/31/14 01:49:20
(Worth A Look)
SCREENED AT THE 2014 FANTASIA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: A common issue I have with horror movies is that their scary events seldom seem to be parts of the same story, but just a collection of things that the filmmakers will get a jump. That is not an issue with "At the Devil's Door", which is impressively focused on connecting its supernatural and human stories, although it could do with playing them out a little more.After we see a girl (Ashley Rickards) go with her boyfriend to see a strange "uncle" for a "game", we're introduced to Leigh Montero (Catalina Sandino Moreno), a hardworking 29-year-old realtor whose business is picking up in an unfortunate way, with wave upon wave of foreclosures. She dotes on her younger sister Vera (Naya Rivera), all the family she has left. The latest house Leigh has for sale should look familiar, with owners who want it on the market right away and some rather unnerving fire damage and disclosure notices.
This film played other festivals earlier this year under the name of "Home", and that may be a better title for it in some ways. Writer/director Nicholas McCarthy doesn't have his characters talk about what the concept means to them very often, but it's interesting that while there is a voice-over about the number of the beast in the beginning, the greater atmosphere of impending doom comes from the talk of people losing those homes, whether on the radio or in Leigh's office (Dan Roebuck is perfectly defensive and embarrassed about being behind on the mortgage in one scene before it moves in another direction). Leigh has a family home but no family, and it plays into the tension between her and Vera.
The film is not just thoughts on having or lacking home and family, and McCarthy has the story play out in generally creepy fashion. There are relatively few effects shots - monsters, ghosts, and/or creepy teenage girls tend to keep to the shadows - but McCarthy deploys them well, getting more tension than usual from horror standbys like levitation and things showing up in mirrors. He milks the maximum atmosphere out of rain or an environment that seems unnaturally still and lifeless, and gives the movie a little more scale by jumping around in time, sometimes telling two stories simultaneously and sometimes moving forward in ways that horror movies generally don't.
Not all of his cast appears in every time period, but the three women at the center all give strong, interesting performances from better-than-usual material. Ashley Rickards, for instance, gets to do a lot more than just be irresponsible and then inscrutably creepy (her character's usual arc); the flashbacks show a great arc of uncertainty and regret and general breakdown. Catalina Sandino Moreno always adds a little more to Leigh than just what's in her words; for a fairly plain-spoken character, she winds up with a lot of nuance. Naya Rivera initially seems to have the simplest character in Vera but winds up with some great moments as the film goes on.They're good enough to make the end more satisfying than it initially appears after things have sunken in a bit, even if the movie does occasionally seem to be setting up something a little more grandiose. Focus on the more modest-scaled parts of "At the Devil's Door", though, and you'll find a supernatural thriller that's uncommonly smart as well as scary, and that's always a pleasure.
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