Movies

Movie Review: The Devil’s Doorway is a Surprisingly Scary

The Devil’s Doorway is a surprisingly scary found footage, possession story that delivers a few genuinely creepy moments despite its tired tropes.

The Devil's Doorway

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 The Devil’s Doorway by first time Director Aislinn Clarke is a well done horror movie that nods to the past while still have a few things new to show us.  The film tells the story of two priests sent to a home for women of ill repute in Ireland called Magdalene Laundries.  The priests are there to investigate a potential miracle.  What they find will rock them to their cores and prove there is more evil possible by humanity than the Devil could ever muster himself.
The real history of the film serves the story well as the concept itself for the homes and the facts that have emerged are the stuff of nightmares.  Magdalene Laundries or Magdalene Asylums were essentially work prisons disguised as “treatment” centers for prostitutes, promiscuous women, and single pregnant women.  They were harsh to say the least and the conditions were unbearable.  The women were forced into labor and punished for their sins.  The first laundry was established in 1758 Whitechapel, England and they existed throughout England, Ireland, Scotland, and North America until 1996 when the final laundry closed its doors.  The facilities were named after the biblical character Mary Magdalene who was widely believed to be a reformed prostitute.  In 1993 a mass grave of 155 bodies was uncovered in Dublin, Ireland at one of the largest homes.  It is estimated that at least 1000 women are buried all over the grounds of these places.  This simple backdrop should be terrifying enough for any women and I’m quite frankly shocked we haven’t seen more movies about these terrible places.  Toss in some good acting, Sixties era film work and an interesting story and we have a compelling and terrifying feature film.
A Simple Theory of Torture-Ghostland Explained
Solid acting performances by all the major players fulfill Clarke’s vision nicely.  Lalor Roddy and Ciaran Flynn are great as the older and more jaded Father Thomas and the younger, more idealistic Father John.  In this possession story the younger priest is the true believer while the older priest is the one beaten down by time and experience and is questioning his faith along with his faith in humanity.  As it turns out he had every right to question that.  Mother Superior played by Helena Bereen is the quintessential strict scary nun.  She is condescending and just plain mean.  Harsh and rigid doesn’t even begin to describe her persona.  This is a woman who takes her job WAY to seriously and has lost all compassion for her charges.  The poison she spews leaks down into all that work with her as well.  She is disgusted by the women she is in charge of but interestingly enough offers some really unique insights into the two priests. She is a strange conduit for discussions of toxic masculinity but I really enjoyed that complexity. She questions her role in the church cover up of priest sexual relationships all while condemning those women whom she claims were taken advantage of.  Her performance is chilling to say the least.  Finally our possessed young pregnant girl Kathleen who is fully realized by Lauren Coe is an ethereal fright fest.  She is everything that a great possessed woman should be.  She is childlike and eerie and strangely powerful all at the same time.  I’m sure we will see much more of her in the future.
The camera work is almost exclusively that of the hand held cameras the characters use and it is quite effective.  Clarke has a real sense of subtlety with her moments.  Children’s laughter and the patter of their tiny feet is particularly effective once the priests enter the underground tombs of the home.  Smart use of the POV camera with wider set up shots provide little hints of the apparitions and if for the careful watcher these quick visuals lead to some pretty disturbing images.  This is a movie to be watched closely as easter eggs abound when cameras are dropped or swung in different directions.  Angles and lighting are used to keep the viewer frustrated and anxious while giving away just enough to keep you hooked.  The dying battery camera bulb of the 16 mm used to document the entire experience is a clever nod to the tired trope of the dying camera but with a fresh take.  The film looks and feels from the Sixties.  The set design and costuming are spot on and richly layered.  Every corner of the convent feels as stark as the situation of its residents.  The catacombs below are claustrophobic and deeply unsettling. Clarke does a great job of pulling us deeper and deeper into the bowels of this space.  The final sequence set here is reminiscent of the fantastic final act of The Blair Witch Project.  The dread is palpable but inevitable and the film works because of that ending.  
Less important than the eye-bleeding statues and exploding iconography is the horror of these women’s treatment.  Being chained in a basement, forced to work to the bone and constantly told they are nothing but trash by the nuns who are supposedly there to help is the obvious horror here.  The demon possession somehow seems less than, next to those nuns.  That’s no slight on Coe who is altogether creepy but a nod to Clarke who focuses her movie on intense personal questions of morality all while scaring us with a very real demon.  Clearly the demon was invited into the Laundry by the evil that was already there and it is an interesting notion.  

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 The Devil’s Doorway is in limited theaters right now and you can stream it on Amazon Prime.  It is well worth your time at just over sixty seven minutes and produces a few interesting scares, a horrific factual premise and quality performances.  It is atmospheric and far scarier than you expect it to be.  While not gory in any way it still seems to yield intense emotion and anxiety.  Despite being what could have been an exhausting revisiting of the found footage and possession genres it finds an angle that allows it to stand out from some of the recent drivel.  This is a film worth both your time and your money.  Watch this and then fall down the rabbit hole that is the real history of Magdalene Laundries.LXLMS

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3.5/5 Stars

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