The Devil is in the Details…


At the Devil’s Door is the 2nd feature film from Nicholas McCarthy (The Pact) that seeks to take the “possession” genre into a new direction.  While most possession films involve a haunted place (Amityville Horror), a haunted object (Annabelle), or a legacy of witchcraft/Satanism following one individual (Paranormal Activity), McCarthy seeks to provide a new twist.

The story begins with a girl named Hannah (Ashley Rickards-Fly Away, Gamer) is convinced by her boyfriend to play a game in a creepy trailer home to earn some much needed cash.  Upon entering the trailer, she finds that the stakes are pretty high.  To keep the money, she must go to the end of the road and say her name so that “he will know your name when he calls for you”.  We then see Hannah have her name called while alone in her room.  A shadowy figure enters her before it fades to black. And so begins the story of At the Devil’s Door.

We then enter a new story of a real estate agent named Leigh (Catalina Sandino Moreno-Che) who is trying to sell the home of a couple whose daughter disappeared. Looking around the house, she begins to notice something is off.  The bedroom furniture is the only thing still in the house and it is in the room of where Hannah disappeared (only the parents call her Charlene) when the voice called for her.

We are then introduced to Vera, Leigh’s sister (Naya Rivera-Glee) who is a withdrawn anti-social artist who is constantly on the run following their parent’s deaths.  As the plot begins to unfold we learn that the demon/devil has a grand design that involves each of these 3 girls.

While there are moments of pure creepiness, and a story with the potential to turn the genre on its head, it ultimately is too ambitious for its own good.  There is a basic thread that the audience can follow regarding the grand scheme of the demonic entity, but it is the details that foul it up.  There is not a clear line between the characters of Hannah and Charlene.  In an effort to misdirect the viewer, the details of these two characters is often muddled.  There is an attempt to explain the difference between them, but it falls flat.

And like the other indie horror film HoneymoonRosemary’s Baby figures strongly into the influence of this film.  But unlike the classic Roman Polanski film, there is no deeper cultural analysis, or sinister plot.  We are just expected to stay in suspense because a demon is out there and may do something else if we keep watching.

In the end, the grand plan of it all falls flat and renders any potential payoffs meaningless.  The ideas contained within the script have potential but they needed more time to develop into something worthy of the ambition behind it.  And as a horror film, the standard tricks are used much too often. Scares are based mostly on camera angles reflecting through a nearby mirror where typical “jump” tactics are employed to keep the suspense level high.

The cast is a list of newcomers and unknowns but each is highly effective in their respective roles.  Catalina Sandino Moreno is deserving of more screen time as is Naya Rivera.  Each took a pretty thin role and elevated it into something substantive.  I hope that we will see more of them in the future. Had their roles been utilized more and integrated into a more developed story, this film might have found a larger audience.

As it is, the devil is in the details and they are what keep the devil at the door and thankfully away from a larger audience.  At the Devil’s Door opens this weekend at the Alamo Drafthouse and other select locations.