In its first, big jump scare moment (the first of many), The Other Side Of The Door utilises the coffin, and decomposing body, of a dead child that is being dug up so his ashes can be used to make contact with the beyond. That should give some indication of what kind of vibe British director/co-writer Johannes Roberts (Storage 24) is going for here. And, in case that little moment (along with the truly rubbish title) didn’t sell the film’s wafer-thin premise eloquently enough, it can be summed up thusly: It is more of the same utterly unconvincing, computer-generated, paranormal bullshit–only, this time, it’s set in India.
Bizarrely, this is a British-Indian co-production. Strange, considering the featured family are about as white-bread, affluent American as humanly possible while the rest of the country’s population is depicted as dirty, starving poor. The family in question are the Howards, reeling from the tragic loss of their young son, Oliver. Mother Maria (The Walking Dead‘s Sarah Wayne Callies, doing her best) has taken it particularly hard, possibly due to the fact that she seemingly has nothing to do other than mope around their sizeable country pile with her other child and their friendly, Indian housekeeper/nanny/spiritual guide.
It’s this poor soul (played by Suchitra Pillai, kindly and reserved in an utterly thankless role) who divulges to Maria that an ancient, abandoned temple in the middle of nowhere has a secret connection to the beyond that she can use to contact Oliver. After travelling there, completely unaccompanied of course, Maria is instructed to scatter her dead son’s ashes. After doing so, she may communicate with him through a mysterious door. But she is warned not to open the door at any cost, lest the balance between life and death be disturbed. Naturally, as these things tend to go, that warning is not heeded.
Horror fans have become so accustomed to this variety of shiny, soulless, money-grabbing, studio horror nonsense that it’s borderline offensive how little effort The Other Side Of The Door makes to try to scare us. It’s like the film-makers have given up before they’ve even begun. Every scare is a jump scare, each one gifted its own jarring musical cue. All the usual clichés are trotted out, from a dog barking at apparitions only he can see, to a piano playing by itself, a creepy little girl, some late-night swinging in the garden and even bugs crawling all over some just-prepared food.
There are creepy locals (possibly tribesmen; they’re not given anything remotely resembling a back-story) who so closely resemble the actual ghosties contained within that it’s often difficult to tell whether Maria is seeing things or if there is actually someone standing right next to her. In one scene, played for frights but timed like a comedic misdirect, her daughter asks who “that man” is only for her poor mother to discover when it’s much too late that there’s a man standing right in her face (“Not that man, Mommy!”). But why are they so frightened of these people? What threat do they pose?
As for the phantoms, they’re (mostly) lazily rendered in the usual dodgy CGI, with the sound effects of cracking limbs added on top to give them some weight. In a few long shots, actual actors were used. The phantoms look like every other ghostly presence we’ve seen a million times over. The lack of thought that went into creating them is most evident when they’re bursting through curtains or, more tellingly, staring Maria straight in the face. There is precisely nothing scary about these otherworldly beings, especially when it becomes clear that one of them is most definitely Oliver and he wants little more than a bedtime story.
For a time, the film toys with the, admittedly interesting, idea of Maria learning to love, and indeed discipline, her child from beyond the grave but this thread is swiftly dropped along with everything else in favour of yet more bloody jump scares. It’s like we’re constantly hurrying along to get to the next one, without a second to waste. The Other Side Of The Door shares certain DNA with the flawed, yet still wildly superior Insidious: Chapter 3. The difference here is it’s clear from the beginning that the presence is Maria’s son, so there’s no tension. In Chapter 3, a level of unease was created by the possibility that other, malevolent souls may have hitched a ride back with one of the characters.
In addition to no sustained tension, there are also no attempts made to create a spooky, or suspenseful, atmosphere. Scenes drag on while the next scare is signposted from miles away, and character motivations change depending on what’s happening at any particular time. On top of this, the movie can’t seem to keep its own mythology straight. Consequently, that leads to more than a few weird turnarounds, along with a bat-shit crazy (and surprisingly bloody) final act, that is such a swerve it’ll give you whiplash. On top of all that, it culminates in an offensively predictable ending (it might be a twist, if you weren’t paying attention to the preceding 90 minutes).
The fact that The Other Side Of The Door is highly derivative is to be expected, as is its complete reliance on jump scares and horror clichés, but what’s most upsetting is that it doesn’t even have one decent image or memorable moment it can all its own. Everything is swiped from elsewhere, making the whole thing embarrassingly predictable as a result. The fact that it managed to score an R rating is questionable in itself, because the flick is so neutered, so completely watered down, that it makes Goosebumps seem scary and intense in comparison–hell, at least that movie took charge of its monsters and kept its PG tone, and scares, consistent.
This is the first, big, mainstream studio horror release of the year (if you don’t count The Witch, as that was independently financed and then picked up for a nationwide release by A24) so it’s pretty much guaranteed a critical lashing. But, even in comparison to last year’s Sinister 2, or Poltergeist (both dealt with similar themes and both were pretty unmemorable), this is bad. This is really, really bad and we, as horror fans, should be angry that this is the kind of dross being fed to us on a consistent basis. Even the multiplex crowd will struggle to find something to scream about here, and it’s unlikely to spook anybody who’s even caught a hint of a horror movie before.
With less than a 100-minute long run-time, that feels about twice the length it should, a nonsensical premise, shoddy execution on practically every level and absolutely no scares whatsoever, The Other Side Of The Door is best avoided at all costs. With genre-defining indie flicks like The Witch and Green Room pushing the boundaries and finding new and inventive ways to get under our skin and creep us out, there’s really no place for derivative, time-wasting, and cynical tosh like this. If we vote with our wallets, maybe, just maybe, we won’t have to suffer the indignity of a sequel next year.
WICKED RATING: [usr 2]
Director(s): Johannes Roberts
Writer(s): Johannes Roberts, Ernest Riera
Stars: Sarah Wayne Callies, Jeremy Sisto, Sofia Rosinsky, Suchitra Pillai
Studio/ Production Co: 42, Kriti Productions
Length: 96 minutes
Sub-Genre: Supernatural, Possession