The Devil's Doorway (Movie Review)

The Devil's Doorway (Movie Review)
6 10

PLOT: A pair of priests encounter supernatural forces while investigating a reported miracle at a Magdalene Laundry in 1960.

REVIEW: THE DEVIL'S DOORWAY is a horror film presented in the "found footage" style, so I should start out by acknowledging that I am not a fan of this style of filmmaking in general. There have been a few stray found footage movies I've enjoyed here and there, but honestly I would not be bothered if I never saw another found footage horror film. More specifically, I would be perfectly content to never watch another horror movie in which there are scenes of a shaking camera running through dark areas, nothing to light the way but the light on the camera. I had heard there was more going on in THE DEVIL'S DOORWAY than in the average found footage flick, so I was open to giving it a chance. I wanted it to show me something different, to impress me. And when the film began with a "flash forward" scene of a shaking camera running through a dark area, nothing to light the way but the light on the camera, I was far from impressed.

Thankfully there's a good amount of build-up before we get back around to that running scared portion of the film, which actually proves to be more interesting during the downtime between the scares and instances of paranormal activity, when it functions as a condemnation of the inhumane way the Catholic Church treated women at the Magdalene Laundries asylums in Ireland. THE DEVIL'S DOORWAY is the feature directorial debut Aislinn Clarke, and by making this film Clarke became the first woman to direct a horror movie in Northern Ireland, so it seems quite fitting that she would use her movie to take on the mistreatment of women in Ireland's past.

The story begins when two priests are called in to investigate a reported miracle at a Magdalene Laundry: a statue of the Virgin Mary has been weeping blood. Documenting the process is the young Father John (Ciaran Flynn), who desperately wants to confirm that this was indeed a miracle, and conducting the investigation is the veteran Father Thomas (Lalor Roddy), who doesn't expect this to be a miracle. This sort of thing never is, and even if a miracle were to happen, it certainly wouldn't happen at a place like a Magdalene Laundry. Thomas is deeply disturbed by the way women are treated in these places, and Roddy delivers a terrific performance as this caring, skeptical character.

By crafting a story that deals with a real world issue from Ireland's history, Clarke and co-writers Martin Brennan and Michael B. Jackson managed to make their film much more intriguing than it would have been if it were simply set in some random, modern Catholic Church location. The choice to tell a Magdalene Laundry story also allowed for the film to be more visually appealing than if it were presented as if it had been shot by modern characters with modern equipment. The last Magdalene Laundry closed in 1996, so that required THE DEVIL'S DOORWAY to have an old school look, and Clarke chose to go further back than 1990s VHS camcorders. The setting is October of 1960 and Father John is shooting on 16mm film, so the entire movie has a grainy film look and a 1.37:1 aspect ratio. This was a great artistic choice, although the flashes of fake film damage come along with annoying frequency.

Of course, this movie isn't entirely about shady, abusive nuns and a priest speaking out against their behavior. There is a statue literally weeping blood here, after all, and as the priests dig deeper into that strange occurrence it becomes very clear that there are dangerous supernatural forces at work in the laundry. Ghostly voices, giggling apparitions, possible possession, mysterious pregnancy, evidence of Satanic worship... there are plenty of horrific things for Father John to scream about while waving his camera around in dark corridors. Whenever THE DEVIL'S DOORWAY would get around to the typical found footage moments of the camera wobbling through creepy rooms, and especially when it reached the point we saw the flash forward to, it would lose me, because all this panicked roaming around felt like a tedious waste of time. It's a shame, because the film had a lot going for it otherwise.

There are very interesting ideas within THE DEVIL'S DOORWAY, the supernatural mystery at the laundry is gripping and Father Thomas is a captivating character wonderfully brought to life by Roddy... but it fails to reach its potential because of the found footage approach, despite the cool retro look it has. The shooting style short-changes the story, and as the film went by I could only imagine how much better it could have been if it had a traditional structure and shooting style.

THE DEVIL'S DOORWAY does stand out as being one of the better found footage horror movies out there, but that only elevates it to being middle-of-the-road. It could have been so much better, with the elements that are at play within it, it could have been so much more effective, but the presentation holds it back. If you're an established fan of the style, you might be able to go along with this version of the story and appreciate the film as a solid new entry in the sub-genre. If you don't appreciate this type of filmmaking, this isn't likely to win you over, as you'll be left mourning what could have been if only we weren't stuck just looking at what's directly in front of Father John the whole time.

Although THE DEVIL'S DOORWAY ended up disappointing me, the basic story and some of the artistic decisions do make it worth checking out - it's only 76 minutes long, so it's not asking a whole lot of you. The major revelation here is Lalor Roddy; I was shocked to see that he has earned over seventy screen credits over the last thirty years, because I have seen exactly two of the things he's been in: this and GRABBERS. And I didn't even realize he was someone from GRABBERS. That guy is awesome. Lalor Roddy is a name that should be known by film fans.

For her part, Aislinn Clarke certainly shows a lot of promise with this debut, and I look forward to seeing what she'll do next. I really hope it won't be found footage. 

Extra Tidbit: IFC Midnight will be releasing THE DEVIL'S DOORWAY in select theatres and on VOD July 13th.



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