Friday, August 29, 2014

[Review] At The Devil's Door

A young woman is coaxed into playing a shell game with a mysterious stranger out in the California desert with the promise of a $500 reward. When she wins, she's told that it's because she's been chosen; by who, or for what purpose, is left unsaid. After having returned home, the answer comes in the form of an invisible force lurking in her bedroom wardrobe.

When real estate agent Leigh (Catalina Sandino Moreno) is tasked with selling this very same home after the disappearance of its owners' daughter, strange occurrences and a list of disclosures reveal the pieces of a horrifying puzzle that she may be a part of.

Filmmaker Nicholas McCarthy made a splash back in 2012 with his first feature film, The Pact, a supernatural mystery that has since managed to build up a small cult following. While appreciating the approach and its palpable atmosphere, it felt like a mixed bag to me, proving that McCarthy's storytelling skills were certainly in need of some fine tuning. Not much has changed with his sophomore effort, At the Devil's Door, resulting in a film that is at once rewarding and disappointing. 

When it comes down to it, the concept behind At the Devil's Door is fairly routine stuff. You can figure out where it's headed very early on, but it's the way these events unfold that keeps things somewhat fresh. The narrative is split between three different characters; the teen who plays the "game" that starts this whole mess, the real estate agent and her sister Vera (Naya Rivera). This technique reminded me of The Grudge, showing how a single horrifying event can affect many different people in a chain reaction. It makes for a twisty, engaging viewing for the first half of the film.

Midway through, however, things start to get a bit sluggish and repetitive. We're treated to the same scares, the same situations, the same revelations, again and again. By this point, it becomes painfully clear that the shuffling was merely a ploy to keep you from realizing that the plot isn't really going anywhere and the characters aren't really accomplishing anything. It would have been more appropriate (and successful) had it all been condensed into a short film, but as a feature length, it remains a mostly underwhelming affair.
Buried beneath some unfortunate choices lies a wonderfully eerie and disturbing horror tale. The concept may be simple and even nauseatingly typical, but it certainly doesn't lack the chill factor, showcased in small moments of subtle supernatural manifestations. But these moments are few and far between, leaving us with very little to keep us going until the end. I can't imagine At the Devil's Door rocking anyone's world, but if you're a fan of The Pact, I'd say it's worth a watch.


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