Written and Directed by: Nicholas McCarthy
Starring: Catalina Sandino Moreno, Naya Rivera, and Ashley Rickards
Reviewed by: Brett Gallman
It's looking for a home.
If his first two features are any indication, writer/director Nicolas McCarthy has a knack for taking the familiar and contorting it into labyrinthine puzzles built on twists and misdirection. Despite the grisly subject matter he tackles, thereís a certain playfulness to both The Pact and At the Devilís Door that leaves audiences constantly grasping at the plotís direction. Given McCarthyís obvious reverence for Hitchcock, thatís not a surprise, nor is his commitment to wringing a moldy premise (in this case, demonic possession) for all its suspense and intrigue.
At the Devilís Door is a hell of a thriller in more ways than one: its prologue introduces us to Hannah (Ashley Rickard), a rebellious teen whose boyfriend has talked her into a trip out to the boonies, where they consult with a trailer trash mystic for a mysterious ritual involving $500 and some crossroads. Instead of revealing further details, McCarthy shifts the scene to follow the exploits of Leigh (Catalina Sandino Moreno), an ambitious real estate agent tasked with selling what your standard issue suburban-home-with-a-sordid-history. Turns out it was once the site of a bizarre suicide, and Leigh is haunted by both the story and the unrested spirit of the girl who supposedly died decades ago.
More revelations (and passages from Revelations) await as McCarthy roves between three protagonists once Leighís sister Vera (Naya Rivera) enters the picture, at which point any astute viewer will guess where the story is headed. Just like The Pact, At the Devilís Door is beholden to the Psycho structure of introducing protagonists only to take some sharp turns and even discard them. Admittedly, McCarthy emblazons his intentions on his sleeve with the Hitchcockian namesakes and diffuses some of the mystery with the somewhat unnecessary prologue (without it, the film would serve as a better mystery, as anyone with a working knowledge of crossroads and devils will have solved the puzzle long before the filmís characters), but At the Devilís Door is more about the journey than the destination.
Even though you may sense where the film is going, arriving there remains intriguing thanks to McCarthyís commitment to a slow burn, creeping dread that envelops his trio of characters. His film houses twists, turns, and revelations, yet it never spirals out of control as it spans multiple decades and protagonists. Itís a big film played on an intimate level, which is pretty astounding considering it winds down with some rather large stakes. This features one of the more grounded takes on the olí Antichrist yarn in recent memory because it hovers around characters in lieu of assaulting audiences with endless schlockóitís the sort of film thatís content to trade in spooky imagery (such as a girl in a red hoodie that recalls the likes of Donít Look Now and Alice, Sweet Alice) and moody compositions in favor of an obnoxious parade of cheap jolts and scares.
Even when the pulp elements threaten to overwhelm the proceedings (when a hellacious demon appears, for instance), McCarthyís restraint remains firm. The climactic moment actually feels a little ludicrous on paper, but itís as intense a showdown one can imagine given the situation. Until the endóeven after multiple possessions and demonic ultrasounds--the film stays committed to impactful character moments, and that makes all the difference in a film thatís cobbled together from so many familiar scraps. Thereís a dash of Rosemaryís Baby here, a sprinkling of The Omen there, and even a smattering of various haunted house movies for good measure, but At the Devilís Door is a well-executed assemblage from top to bottom.
With The Pact, McCarthy signalled his arrival; with this follow up, he proves that heís set to become one of the strongest voices within the genre. At the Devilís Door is top notch horror filmmaking that bothers to go beyond the easy scaresóitís unnerving in a way that creeps under your skin and burrows into your brain. Itís exactly the sort of film that should be released in theaters to prove the vitality of the genre, but itís been consigned to limited runs and VOD. Luckily, IFC Midnight has become something of a safe haven for such under-seen films and has brought At the Devilís Door to your front door with a nice Blu-ray release. In addition to boasting a fine presentation, the disc features a commentary with McCarthy, a 17-minute making-of doc, deleted scenes, and a trailer. After such an auspicious start to his career, McCarthy is certainly one to watch; if The Pact established his skill at constructing polished, technically proficient sequences, At the Devilís Door proves that heís an able storytelleróeven when heís simply remixing old tales. Buy it!
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