‘The Other Side of the Door’: Film Review
Sarah Wayne Callies stars opposite Jeremy Sisto in Johannes Roberts’ India-set horror film.
Ghost stories and haunted house tales are common across a wide variety of cultures, so it seems like India, with its stunning diversity of traditions, would offer ample material to enliven the horror genre. Johannes Roberts’ feature only intermittently hints at this rich heritage, however, mostly adopting the cultural trappings of the subcontinent to dress up a fairly routine account of loss and supernatural transgression. Fox’s March release could get a boost internationally from the worldwide dispersion of South Asian audiences, but it may miss the mark domestically.
In setting the scene for the film’s crucial first act, Roberts may take things somewhat too leisurely, introducing American couple Michael (Jeremy Sisto) and Maria (Sarah Wayne Callies), who live a privileged life in Mumbai, where Michael deals in high-end antiques and Maria looks after their two children, Oliver (Logan Creran) and younger sister Lucy (Sofia Rosinsky). So when a terrible road accident sends her SUV plunging into a river and Maria can only save Lucy as water pours inexorably into their vehicle, she feels entirely responsible for Oliver’s death. Chronic depression leads her to attempt suicide, alarming hopelessly confused Michael, who has no idea how to draw his wife back from the brink of oblivion. In secret, their housekeeper Piki (Suchitra Pillai) offers Maria a potential source of solace. Having lost her young daughter to a similar accident years before, she tells Maria about an isolated temple deep in the south of India, where supplicants waiting inside can make contact with the spirits of their deceased loved ones just beyond the entrance and speak with them one final time, but are forbidden to open the temple’s door.
Telling Michael she needs some time alone to regather her strength, Maria travels to the decrepit, deserted temple, which is surrounded by threatening sadhus emerging from the surrounding forest. Unbelievably, her prayers are answered after dark when Oliver speaks to her from the other side of the building’s front door and she asks his forgiveness for abandoning him in the river. He begs her to let him inside and fearful of losing contact with Oliver forever, she heedlessly violates the ancient prohibition and throws the door wide open in a desperate attempt to connect with him, but he’s nowhere to be found.
Although she soon comes back home from her clandestine trip feeling restored, she hasn’t returned alone. Michael feels relieved to see his wife regaining a semblance of her normal life, but fails to recognize that something’s not right around the house. Maria continues to hide her secretive journey from Michael, but after Piki discovers that Maria broke the temple rules, her desperate determination to protect the family may be entirely in vain, as a clash of malevolent supernatural forces seems inevitable.
As Maria valiantly attempts to separate legitimate menace from paranoid delusion, it’s difficult for Callies (The Walking Dead) to register much more than either alarm or bewilderment while she’s besieged by an onslaught of nonsensical threats. Sisto earnestly plays the hardworking, loyal husband and father, but only really engages late in the third act when his fate becomes almost secondary to the outcome of events surrounding Maria.
Aside from his best-known film, 2012 thriller Storage 24, Roberts has also established a track record directing low-budget horror (including titles such as Forest of the Damned and Hellbreeder), although he achieves improved returns by elevating both concept and budget with The Other Side of the Door, which still represents only nominal progress. Along with writing partner Ernest Riera, Roberts pilfers odds and ends of Hindu religious practices and folklore to construct a middling ghost story that traces a vaguely Gothic outline, only to follow a wearyingly derivative trajectory. The vaguely grasped appropriation of Indian beliefs about the afterlife engenders more confusion than clarity, leading to a wildly muddled denouement hinting at a sequel that seems unlikely to materialize.
With its measured pacing, focus on family and repurposing of familiar horror conventions, the film represents a rather adult offering that can’t manage any memorable frights until well into the first hour of running time. Roberts fares somewhat better establishing a moody visual style, well-supported by Maxime Alexandre’s atmospheric cinematography and David Bryan’s imaginative production design, as well as some characteristic Mumbai locations, particularly a vintage wood-frame house that serves as the VFX-enhanced center of the principal action.
Distributor: Twentieth Century Fox
Production companies: 42, Fire Axe
Cast: Sarah Wayne Callies, Jeremy Sisto, Sofia Rosinsky, Logan Creran, Suchitra Pillai, Javier Botet
Director: Johannes Roberts
Screenwriters: Johannes Roberts, Ernest Riera
Producers: Alexandre Aja, Rory Aitken, Ben Pugh
Executive producers: Tim Cole, Josh Varney
Director of photography: Maxime Alexandre
Production designer: David Bryan
Music: Joseph Bishara
Casting director: Michael Hothorn
Rated R, 96 minutes