After the tragic death of her son, Oliver, Maria (Sarah Wayne Callies – Prison Break, The Walking Dead) seeks out an old Hindu on the afterlife gateway to say her final goodbyes but unleashes a twisted version of his spirit back into the world. Can she get rid of the spirit? Or will losing her son again be too much for her?
First of all, the film gets points for the originality of its setting; when was the last time you saw a horror film set in India? The location choice gives a great color and vibrancy to the background against the more traditional pallet of horror grays. It’s a refreshing change. The spiritual aspects of the film also slide in seamlessly to such a heavily religious country. Okay, the progressively frequent ash covered weirdoes showing up stretches things too far as it goes against the general pledge of a normal life setting but other than that, it works well. For a lot of the film, the visual and horror elements are used sparsely to good effect as they keep things more personal as events transpire through Maria’s eyes while others question if they’re just in her head. There are points through the first half where this stalls the pacing though. Even with the intent of building tension, the film doesn’t get gain as much as it tries for by lingering. It does manage some general creepiness around the areas of possession and haunting. In fact, the 1st half's positive approach becomes the most interesting part of the film.
At first, Maria gets her son back in some form as his spirit merrily plays the piano or asks her to read a story. That makes the gradual transition between the good times and inevitable bad all the more relatable as we see Maria conflicted between what she sees and what she wants to believe. The same can’t be said for the earlier setup, which falls into far too many clichés. As soon as Maria’s told what not to do, we’re no doubt she’s going to be the token dumb character that does it. Then there’s the endless convenient sidelining of husband Michael (Jeremy Sisto – Suburgatory), who is miraculously late coming home from work so often that it’s a wonder he’s not having an off-screen affair subplot.
At several points, there’s some great imagery both from makeup and CG effects. The recurring presence of the Myrtu underworld guardian is a terrific sight, like a multi-armed Hindu Weeping Angel. The rickety stop motion-like movements are maybe an old horror trick but it’s used very well to give the entity a real on screen presence. Similarly, the glimpse of a more corpsified Oliver is very effective, especially when placed normally within a frame making us look for his deformities rather than shoving them in our face for jump scares. On the subject of jumps, the film of course, has some as per industry standard but thankfully, the technique is not overused as director Johannes Roberts (Storage 24) paces equal value on slow building scares. For an example, bad overuse, see The Forest (... actually don’t, just take my word for it). There is one very big four-legged overplay, and that is using the dog as a warning device. For some parts of the film, it even feels like the only trick being used but more importantly, if often less little consequence or impact. The continuity also wavers heavily over just what Oliver or any haunting spirit can do. Although this does provide a good late twist, some great clarification would be preferable.
Lori Grimes was never a fan favorite mother on The Walking Dead but she does much better with her role here. She’s both strong and fragile enough when required and although she takes the opening act to fully get into her character, she develops into a strong lead. Jeremy Sisto is the guy in a porn film; he may have a name but he’s still a glorified prop. He doesn’t get much emotion across on screen but neither does he get much chance too. The younger cast members impress, especially Sofia Rosinsky as daughter Lucy who despite her age, really holds a number of scenes by herself.
The Other Side of the Door won’t be a horror film for all target audiences. It’s relatively blood & gore free with a low body count but it does offer some well-constructed creepiness. It isn’t for those without the patience for a slow build-up but it is a very different take and approach on a subject matter that’s usually wrapped in Japanese lore. It won’t trouble Trapdoor for being the door you shouldn’t open (“cause there’s something down there”) but it is the best horror film on current release and may resonate particularly parental viewers.