'At the Devil's Door': Film Review

AT THE DEVIL'S DOOR Still - H 2014
Courtesy of IFC Midnight

AT THE DEVIL'S DOOR Still - H 2014

Creepy atmospherics aren't enough to compensate for the muddled storyline

Horror filmmaker Nicholas McCarthy's sophomore feature pits two sisters against supernatural forces

Proving himself more adept as director than screenwriter, Nicholas McCarthy has crafted a creepily atmospheric but narratively muddled follow-up to his acclaimed horror film debut, The Pact. Currently available on VOD prior to its theatrical release next month, At the Devil’s Door (previously and more generically titled Home) lacks the potent scares and exploitative elements to truly please genre fans. But its thematic ambition and well-crafted elements mark the filmmaker as a talent to watch.

After an intense prologue in which a young woman (Ashley Rickards of MTV’s Awkward) sells her soul to the devil in Robert Johnson-style at a crossroad, the story picks up years later when ambitious real-estate broker Leigh (Catalina Sando Moreno) lands the assignment of selling a Los Angeles house belonging to a financially stressed middle-aged couple. Wandering through the empty home alone, she encounters a young woman who the couple later informs her is undoubtedly their runaway teenage daughter.

After another encounter with the mysterious figure, which doesn’t end at all well for Leigh, the film shifts focus to her younger sister Vera (Naya Rivera of Glee), whose attempt to find out exactly what happened to her sibling results in yet another mysterious spectral encounter, this time with a little girl (Ava Acres), that leads to a violent incident and a mysterious pregnancy that may be the spawn of the devil.

If that plot description sounds confusing, well, so is the film. The fragmented, non-linear storyline never coheres in sufficiently compelling fashion, with its episodic structure — at times it feels like three separate stories loosely tied together — and deliberate ambiguity ultimately proving more frustrating than intriguing.

It’s a shame, because McCarthy — with the help of Bridger Nielson’s expert cinematography, the haunting ambient sound design and the fine, low-key performances by the three female leads — creates an unusually potent atmosphere of dread while largely avoiding cheap shock effects. That it all results in tedium seems like the devil’s handiwork.

Production: Candlewood Entertainment, Varient Pictures

Cast: Catalina Sandino Moreno, Naya Rivera, Ashley Rickards, Wyatt Russell, Ava Acres

Director/screenwriter: Nicholas McCarthy

Producer: Sonny Mallhi

Executive producers: Kyle Heller, Gina Resnick, Jeremy Platt, Nate Bolotin, Aram Tertzakian, Nick Spicer

Director of photography: Bridger Nielson

Editors: Bill Neil, Jake York

Production designer: Walter Barnett

Costume designer: Aubrey Binzer

Composer: Ronen Landa

No rating, 92 minutes