When ambitious young real estate agent Leigh is asked to sell a house with a checkered past, she crosses paths with a disturbed girl whom she learns is the runaway daughter of the couple selling the property. When Leigh tries to intervene and help her, she becomes entangled with a supernatural force that soon pulls Leigh's artist sister Vera into its web - and has sinister plans for both of them.
Did you ever just come across one of those films through reviews on sites such as Letterboxd or Movieweb in which the critic slates it, yet on another site another critic praises it making you want to watch the film just out of curiosity? That was At the Devil's Door for me, a film that represented the rope in a very rough game of tug-of-war between the opinions of genre fans; for god sake it scored a solid 5.0 on IMDb, could it be anymore in the middle (say that sentence like you would if you were Chandler Bing, it works). Perhaps it was the constant battle between the film being loved and hated that made me want to see it, or maybe it was because Santana from Glee was in it too, but in the end up I gave it a go, and I haven't looked back since.
At the Devil's Door is something that can only be described as a pleasant surprise. I am not one to admire the slow-burn styled horror (as talked about in depth in my Honeymoon Review), but when one comes along that manages to conjure up a grisly atmosphere while simultaneously whipping the rug from right beneath your feet at nearly any opportunity it gets, it is pretty hard not to admire it for everything it manages to achieve. This is not your average run-of-the-mill demonic-styled horror flick, in fact it is a lot more than just that; At the Devil's Door has brains, style and a genuinely chilling atmospheric set-up, which is more that what you can say for the state of the horror genre this year.
By no means is this a ground-breaker, nor is it a whole new horror experience that will take genre fans by storm; it's a authentically unsettling piece that bets in on a tense atmosphere as opposed to cheap jump scares. Nicolas McCarthy isn't exactly branching out to expand his variety, although At the Devil's Door is a huge improvement over his previous supernatural horror The Pact that didn't quite land as well as it should have. McCarthy doesn't reinvent the wheel here, but he does spice it up by adding subtle twists and turns that add a level of unpredictability that rarely come hand in hand with this sub-genre like it does with Devil's Door, and that unnerving element of surprise makes it more than just the average demonic tale, because not all are as clever as this.
Undoubtedly, McCarthy penned a clunky script that reads on screen, and once you get past the superb middle act it all begins to show, and the final minutes of what At the Devil's Door has to offer all feels a little muddled, too sudden and incredibly forced; although if it had finished before things started to get a tad rushed, I wouldn't have exactly been too pleased either. The problem really is that the story more-or-less does its full course, therefore we are left with this tangent in the premise that feels slightly unnecessary and abrupt. If given a full 30 minutes to display, then maybe the final act would have been done with justice, but McCarthy fails to manage his time wisely, resulting in a lengthy first act and an undersized finale.
Thankfully though the strong cast manage to stop things from falling flat, and the performances from Naya Rivera (Glee) and Ashley Rickards (MTV's Awkward) works greatly in At the Devil's Door's favour. It's great to see actresses like Rivera and Rickards branch out from their usual scene and put themselves into something new and different, it shows in their performance and the commitment to their roles, Rickards especially is satisfying and convincing. They do a great job in their role, and when you have them picked off in the most unlikely of manners it makes it all that bit better.
The cast however isn't the selling point of At the Devil's Door, and it is in fact the genuine sense of dread and the chilling atmosphere that is established by the unsettling score and the edgy yet stylish camera work. Both bring the fear to life and elevate the terror to a high that has rarely been reached this year. McCarthy has finally presented something worth talking about, and although to many The Pact was his winner and this is his downfall, I would find that it would be the other way around, because At the Devil's Door is a demonic feature done right, and it is as clear and as simple as that.
At the Devil's Door is a genuinely chilling, atmospheric demonic feature that's doesn't live down to its fascinating and clever premise which McCarthy successfully presents with justice, regardless of the odd mishap that knocks it a few steps down from being a brilliant and top-notch horror that 2014 should proudly parade. That however doesn't stop it from being one of the darkest underdogs of the year.
AT THE DEVIL'S DOOR (HOME)
2014 / 91 mins / Supernatural / 15
Director: Nicolas McCarthy
Writer: Nicolas McCarthy
Stars: Ashley Rickards, Naya Rivera, Jan Broberg