July 9, 2018 The Devil’s Doorway (Movie Review)
In the spirit of such Horror classics as 1973’s The Exorcist and 1968s’ Rosemary’s Baby comes The Devil’s Doorway, a truly disturbing new offering from IFC Midnight that arrives in theaters and On Demand Friday, July 13, 2018.
For over 200 years in Ireland, the Catholic Church hid young women in asylum-like establishments known as “Magdalene Laundries,” where prostitutes, orphans, the abused, mentally disabled, and unmarried pregnant women were housed away from society. Our story begins in October 1960, in one of these such “laundries,” where an anonymous letter has been sent to the local bishop proclaiming miraculous events. Here, it is said that a statue of the beloved Virgin Mary weeps tears of blood.
To film and investigate these claims, Father Thomas Reilly (Lalor Roddy: Hunger 2008, Grabbers 2012) and Father John Thornton (Ciaran Flynn: Hunger 2008, Robin Hood 2010) are dispatched by the church. The pair are a complementary duo: Father Reilly is a kindly, older gentleman, and literally a “Doubting Thomas,” a man who has been investigating miraculous claims around the world for over 25 years now. While he believes that miracles are possible, to date, he has witnessed only fraud by desperate tricksters. Father Thornton is much younger and, in turn, much more innocent, excitedly hopeful to be the first one to photograph a miracle in progress. He is the videographer of the pair, the man behind-the-camera charged with capturing evidence of the pair’s investigation. If this were modern day, he would be the over-exuberant vlogger who records every move.
Immediately, the two priests are met with this establishment’s Mother Superior (Helena Bereen: Hunger 2008, Don’t Leave Home 2018), a woman who is initially tenderly pious, but who quickly grows weary of their prodding and tries to thwart the priests at every turn. In fact, before their inquiry can even begin, she sadly informs them that the anonymous claim is nothing more than a sad trick, and while she would love for the Blessed Mother to make miracles under her own roof, it is just not a reality. Furthermore, it quickly becomes apparent that, under the direction of this Reverend Mother, the nuns at this Laundry are physically and verbally abusive to the incarcerated women.
As the proper investigation gets underway, Father Reilly scrapes samples of dried blood from the statue of the Virgin Mary in the chapel. He quickly learns that the source of this blood is a pregnant woman with rare type O-negative blood. (Peter Steele would approve!) As the two priests begin to draw blood samples from the 9 pregnant women at the Laundry, the situation seems to quickly spiral out of control. First, at 3:15AM on their first night, Father Thornton is awoken by screams, children’s laughter, and a baby’s cries – despite there being no children at the Laundry. This occurs on the second evening, as well. On this night, he films a young girl perched at the bottom of the grand staircase, playing with an old and battered marionette, but when he approaches her, she disappears and only the marionette remains. As he ponders this oddity, the young girl appears at the top of the staircase and whispers: “He’s going to kill you!”
In the light of day, the bizarre and unexplained continue to occur. As the fathers dig further into this miraculous mess, they also discover the existence of a basement infirmary, where a young woman, Kathleen O’Brien (Lauren Coe: The Halcyon series, Troy: Fall of a City series), is being kept, chained to the walls of a concrete cell. Seemingly, Kathleen might just hold the key to this entire mystery, that is, if these two men of the cloth can unravel the truth before it is too late.
Clocking in at 76 minutes in-length, Irish film offering The Devil’s Doorway was directed by Aislinn Clarke (The Lighthouse Keepers short 2012, Childer short 2016) and is a feature-length debut for this superbly-talented director. The film was written by Clarke along with Martin Brennan (Hitman: Absolution video game 2012, 13 Coins video game 2013) and Michael B. Jackson (Soldier short 2005, 13 Coins video game 2013).
Billed as Horror, The Devil’s Doorway plays out as such, falling into the Found Footage subgenre and tackling such topics as possession, haunting, and all things devil worship. However, do not fear: this is not a recycled, banal, demonic Found Footage offering that falls flat on its own face. Instead, the film plays out like a delicious blend of The Exorcist and Rosemary’s Baby, with elements of The Blair Witch Project. The end result is a modern Horror offering that has paid expert attention to detail, crafting a story that is as creepy as it is engaging. Days are early yet, but this feels like a good bet for cult-classic fandom.
Obviously, there is an underlying commentary on the Catholic Church here, but pushing that aside, The Devil’s Doorway traffics in a superbly creepy tale that tingles the spine long after its end credits roll. To achieve this scrumptious eeriness, the film employs a wonderful cast. As lead character Father Thomas, Roddy is superb and never misses a single beat. Some might disagree, but he is exactly what a good priest should be: open to miracles but not too quick to qualify everything as divine; thoughtful and intelligent; warm and welcoming. When he speaks to the women of the Magdalene Laundry, he is tender and kind, wanting only the very best for their care. Yet, there is a world-weariness to his doubtful character, one that displays a man who has seen the world and all of her tricksters for what they are. He is a Catholic priest who questions the costuming and posturing of the Catholic Church, a man who feels further from God than ever before while wearing his vestments.
While he spends the bulk of the film as a voice hovering behind a camera, Flynn, as Father John, portrays the unsullied enthusiasm of a young priest, a man who wants so desperately to believe that he is doing God’s work. He is outgoing and congenial, a man who has not yet seen the darkness of the world and donned the weight of knowledge onto his young shoulders. Somewhat conversely, Bereen, as the harsh Mother Superior, is given ample face-time, and she utilizes her talents to convey a woman who is anything but Christian in her nature. Hardened by her sacrifices and bitter toward life, the Reverend Mother is a representation of all that is wrong with the Catholic Church: outwardly pious but inwardly unscrupulous and self-serving.
Aside from its excellent cast, The Devil’s Doorway succeeds beautifully in its use of period. Set in the 1960s, Costume Supervisor Susan Scott has paid ample attention to detail in clothing the cast in simple wardrobe that reflects, not only the time period, but the particular circumstance of their lives. In other words, there is no flashy costuming here, rather somber textures and mute tones to benefit the revenant mood of the piece. This is bolstered by the film’s use of grainy, chopped cinematography – including rounded edges on each frame – a technique that somehow feels reminiscent of 1965’s The Sound of Music, but those nuns were a much nicer group!
In total, each facet of The Devil’s Doorway may have been done previously, ad nauseum, but somehow its individual elements possess such a standard of care that they meld together to create a uniquely enjoyable, entirely haunting experience. It is good! In fact, it is damn good and entirely creepy. The Catholic Church will probably hate it, which just seems like all the more reason to embrace The Devil’s Doorway. For these reasons, CrypticRock gives The Devil’s Doorway 4.5 of 5 stars. Boy, those Irish sure know how to do film right!