Thursday, August 2, 2018

In short: The Devil’s Doorway (2018)

Ireland in the early 60s. The Catholic Church sends Father Thomas (Lalor Roddy) and Father John (Ciaran Flynn) to one of the Magdalene Laundries for “fallen girls” to investigate the statements in a letter speaking of a statue of the Virgin Mary shedding tears of blood. Because this is for some reason a POV horror film, John is filming the course of their investigations on some state of the art camera equipment.

He’s got a lot to film, too, for there is indeed more than just a crying statue around. The openly cynical Mother Superior (Helena Bereen) of the place certainly is no help, neither to the young and somewhat naive John nor to doubting (at least humanity, sometimes his deity) Thomas. Thomas’s problem is that this time around, he can’t quite seem to be able to figure out how the supposed miracles are being faked, a state of affairs that is not going to improve once he and John discover the tortured young, pregnant woman chained up in the cellar, and the various atrocities committed there.

However, it isn’t just human evil awaiting the two but also the supernatural sort.

I found Aislinn Clarke’s The Devil’s Doorway a very frustrating experience. One seldom encounters a film this self-sabotaging; the worst is, it is one single decision that enables everything that drags the film down: filming it in POV horror style. It’s an absolutely puzzling decision, for there is nothing at all going on in the film that could be improved by the constraints of the style by any imagination. Indeed, the things POV horror is least good at – deep characterisation, the exploration of ideas through dialogue, climaxes that don’t consist of people running through woods or cave systems until they are killed by something off-screen – are exactly the elements The Devil’s Doorway should thrive on.

Instead, the film’s form permanently gets in the way of what should by rights a truly disquieting film about guilt, faith, and sin committed in the name of said faith. Despite more than decent acting, the characterisation is blunt and unfocused, obfuscated behind the conceits of POV horror, the lack of subtlety that comes with the form turning actual historical injustice into the usual lame shocks, and each and every scene that needs calm, space and visual as well as emotional development is made jittery and vague. The POV horror standard climax feels like the filmmakers throwing up their hands and just giving up, going for the most hackneyed ending possible.

The most frustrating thing about the whole affair is how clear the potential for thoughtful and philosophical horror film is, and how badly its treatment here fits it.

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