THE DOOR Review: Don’t Knock It
In addition to Twitter being my primary source for news, reviews, trailers, posters, and everything else film-related, the social media platform is a great place to bear witness to the lifecycle of an independent film – from conception to fundraising to promotion to release to reviews. Via Twitter, I have been exposed to independent films I would never have known about otherwise. One such independent film – and just in time for Halloween – is the latest entry in the horror genre. I found this film late in its creative lifecycle – post-production – but it was a find nonetheless, and a pretty good one. From writer/director Patrick McBrearty comes The Door.
Twenty-something Owen (Sam Kantor) has been unemployed for months and is desperate for work. On his way home after breakfast with his friend Matt (Matt O’Connor), he has a chance encounter with a mugging-in-progress. The two muggers flee, and as a show of gratitude, the mysterious would-be victim (Andy Wong) offers Owen a job that starts that very night.
The job? Put on a security guard uniform, sit at a desk in what appears to be an abandoned warehouse, and make sure the door on the other side of the room never opens. The shift is 12 hours per night, five nights per week. It pays $500. Each night.
The seemingly easy money comes with a price, though. When Owen’s friends crash his gig on the first night, that door winds up being opened, setting forth a series of events that will cost Owen far more than just his job.
The strongest takeaway after watching The Door is that Patrick McBrearty has some real skills when it comes to being a horror filmmaker.
First, he makes quick work of establishing Owen’s predicament and getting the character into position for peril to occur (complete with some interesting rules about that door). He also makes quick work of introducing Owen’s friends – his girlfriend Abby (Winny Clarke); Matt’s girlfriend Jess (Alys Crocker); and lesbian couple Olivia (Liv Collins) and Mia (Jessie Yang) – and placing them in harm’s way. This allows more time for more the evil to occur.
McBrearty also has a very smooth directorial style and storytelling flow. The pace is brisk and the camerawork and shot selections are deft, a combination that keeps the viewer quite engaged. The lean running time of 83 minutes contributes to the movement of events as well.
McBrearty also provides an excellent technical experience. There are times independent films fumble their audio and video quality. Not here. Both the image and sound are top-notch and it’s a good thing. Cinematographer Joshua Fraiman brings some serious game in setting the mood via the film’s shadowy look and the repetitive contrasts of red and green lighting. (That said, there are some scenes that are so dark, the action taking place in them is unrecognizable.) The sound team’s work is excellent too, as is the score from Steph Copeland.
Unfortunately, for all of the good that the film’s execution offers – and that execution includes fine performances from most of the cast – the film fails to do the one thing a horror film is fundamentally obligated to do: scare.
Despite the film’s great moody atmosphere and McBrearty’s ability to sustain a level of tension throughout the better part of the picture (no mean feat), very little happens to deliver an actual scare. Tension builds and builds and then … there’s no release. It’s quite frustrating. For the better part of the film, there’s a wait for something to happen and just when it feels like it might, it doesn’t. Yes, there are a couple of surprise moments, but they are so rare, they feel like they support the theory that even a broken clock is right twice a day.
This problem might be a byproduct of McBrearty’s indecision (as the film’s screenwriter) to decide just what kind of horror story he is telling. The notion that Owen’s boss hires him to keep a door closed (combined with other details I won’t divulge here) suggest a humans-terrorizing-humans-for-sport type of horror film. But other events occur (including mysterious and unexplained voices) that suggest something supernatural is at play. Both can coexist, but even if that is the case here, it is not made clear.
The film’s conclusion, despite feeling rushed, is the delicious joy of the story. It is both unexpected and wholly gratifying.
There is enough good in The Door to recommend it for a late-night watch. (Kill all the lights and, more importantly, try to use headphones to get the most out of the terrific sound.) There is also enough good in this film to look forward to McBrearty’s next effort, whatever that might be.
(Note: I was supplied a complimentary iTunes copy of this film for review purposes.)