Studio: IFC Midnight
Director: Aislinn Clarke
Writer: Martin Brennan, Michael B. Jackson, Aislinn Clarke
Producer: Martin Brennan, Michael B. Jackson, Katy Jackson
Stars: Lalor Roddy, Ciaran Flynn, Helena Bereen, Lauren Coe, Carleen Melaugh, Dearbhail Carr, Charlie Bonner, Cathy Brennan Bradley
Investigating claims of a miracle leads two Catholic priests to uncover an unholy conspiracy inside an Irish Magdalene Laundry.
It’s October of 1960 and the Catholic Church has been summoned to investigate claims of a Virgin Mary statue weeping blood in one of Ireland’s Magdalene Laundries. While skeptical veteran Father Thomas remains convinced they are sniffing out a hoax, eager believer Father John brings a film camera along hoping to capture confirmation of a genuine miracle. What the two priests encounter instead is a great deal of suspicious resistance from Mother Superior, as well as the earmarks of an unholy conspiracy involving a mysterious girl secreted away in the cellar.
As far as “found footage” demonic possession thrillers go, “The Devil’s Doorway” has enough meat on its bones to earn a leg up on “The Devil Inside” (review here), but not enough intrigue to bump past the chills of “The Last Exorcism” (review here). As is always the case with this kind of thing, your mileage with the movie depends on personal tolerance levels for the recycled trappings of possession, exorcism, satanic secrets, and first-person building explorations that the horror genre has already steamrolled countless times before.
Instead of the usual “found footage” first act of interviewing locals or setting up equipment, “The Devil’s Doorway” spends its introductory third establishing Father John’s bright-eyed optimism and Father Thomas’ dour doubt with baseball bat delicacy. Ciaran Flynn and Lalor Roddy capably connect expected dots to sell respective roles, although again, this is a typical yin-yang duo previously met in many other incarnations. Director Aislinn Clarke could establish the same characters in far fewer scenes, yet the actors’ earnest inhabitations pepper their performances with the capacity for mild captivation.
Helena Bereen as the asylum’s overbearing overseer and Lauren Coe as the sweetly smiling teen harboring unseen evil complete corners three and four of the stereotype square. Like their male counterparts, the actresses know all the requisite notes to hit. Still, subtlety isn’t a colossal component of anyone’s onscreen vocabulary. Bereen in particular plays her part as such a standard stern nun caricature, her dialogue could be delivered via word balloons.
The film’s most distinctive feature involves its faux 1960s footage being given a full film frame. While movies including “Apollo 18” and “Frankenstein’s Army” (review here) have taken the throwback “found footage” approach too, this retro texture provides “The Devil’s Doorway” with a somewhat unique hook. On the flip side, the inclusion of accompanying music and incredibly crisp sound effects date the movie with modernity that unbalances any illusion of peering into another era entirely.
Clarke gets another hand caught in the cookie jar of going further than necessary while pursuing this conceit. Most notably, any audience could get immersed in the ambiance just fine without constant clicking reminding us we’re supposedly watching a 16mm film reel.
I’m a broken record with the “alsos” and “agains” throughout this review, but “The Devil’s Doorway” skips on the same song so often that I don’t feel guilty about it. So I’ll add that the movie also encounters a B-roll dearth, what with there being only so many cutaways of crucifixes that can accompany interview segments. Then again, that’s preferable to looking at a spinning reel of audiotape, which happens more than once.
20 years after “The Blair Witch Project” (review here), it’s challenging for “found footage” to effectively dig claws into hardened horror fans. “The Devil’s Doorway” has half of a clever concept to work with, but never quite cuts it as a subgenre standout. The movie’s initial hint of sewing in commentary about Ireland’s troubled history with Magdalene Laundries evaporates early, replaced with a lot of the usual looking at dusty corridors in strobing darkness while creepy children’s chants echo.
As indicated earlier, engagement with “The Devil’s Doorway” comes down to individual overexposure to the “found footage” staples of including an apologetic confessional, someone shouting to turn off the camera when tensions boil, unfocused shaking in dim lighting making it hard to see action, etc. Aislinn Clarke puts together an estimable, if familiar, first feature. It’s merely that the more times audiences are asked to continue experiencing déjà vu as years go by, the more indistinguishable “The Devil’s Doorway” will become.
Review Score: 50