'The Devil's Doorway': Film Review

Well-executed but familiar.

Two priests investigate mysterious goings-on at an Irish home for "fallen women" in Aislinn Clarke's horror film.

The well documented infamies of Ireland's Magdalene Laundries would seem to hold diabolically effective potential for a horror film. Unfortunately, the best that director Aislinn Clarke can do is this derivative found-footage chiller. That the plot concerns two priests, one of whom is experiencing a crisis of faith, dealing with a demonically possessed young woman pretty much tells you everything you need to know about the lack of originality in The Devil's Doorway. Even the title sounds like you've heard it before.

To be fair, the film is slightly different from The Exorcist in that the jaded priest is the older, not the younger, of the two. As for the found-footage aspect, the 1960s setting does provide at least one variation on the exhausted genre, with the footage shot in grainy 16mm instead of high-definition video.

The story concerns Father Thomas Riley (Lalor Roddy) and Father John Thornton (Ciaran Flynn), who have been sent by the Vatican to investigate an incident of a statue of the Virgin Mary weeping blood at a Church-run home for supposedly wayward women. The priests are not exactly warmly received by the institution's officious Mother Superior (Helena Bereen), the reasons for which soon become obvious.

The younger Father John, fresh out of the seminary, is all too willing to believe in such phenomena. His older colleague, however, will have none of it, saying that in all his years as a priest he's never personally witnessed a miracle and doesn't believe in them. "This is a waste of your film," the doubting Thomas tells the perpetually camera-toting John who intends to document every aspect of their investigation. Thomas also has little use for the decrepit facility which oppressively subjugates its young female charges. "This place disgusts me," he hisses. "The people who run this place disgust me."  

Not long after the men arrive, not just one but all of the statues begin bleeding. The blood turns out to be that of Kathleen (Lauren Coe), a pregnant young woman being chained up in solitary confinement. The mystery deepens even further when it's revealed that she's still a virgin and has the ability to speak ancient Greek.

Cue the predictable jump scares as things begin to go bump in the night and the priests attempt to perform an exorcism of a demon who has no intention of leaving quietly. Needless to say, it's hard to perform such a rigorous ritual while also filming everything, resulting in much jostling of the camera and loud, jolting noises.

The filmmaker, to her credit, proves highly adept with the technical aspects. The deliberately rough-hewn footage looks suitably realistic and the sound and lighting effects provide a creepily hallucinatory effect. But all the well-crafted effort has unfortunately been expended on a tired and overly familiar story that never registers as anything more than a compendium of horror-film clichés.

The main reason for seeing The Devil's Doorway is the exceptional performance by Roddy as the jaded older priest who seems ready to throw in the towel. Infusing his soulful turn with a world-weary gravitas, the actor almost manages to transcend the hokum surrounding him.

Production company: 23ten
Distributor: IFC Midnight
Cast: Lalor Roddy, Ciaran Flynn, Helena Bereen, Lauren Coe
Director: Aislinn Clarke
Screenwriters: Martin Brennan, Aislinn Clarke, Michael B. Jackson
Producers: Martin Brennan, Katy Jackson, Michael B. Jackson
Executive producer: Mark Huffam
Director of photography: Ryan Kernaghan
Production designer: John Leslie
Editor: Brian Philip Davis
Composer: Andrew Simon McAllister
Casting: Michael Hooley, Carla Stronge

76 minutes