I sat down to watch At the Devil’s Door, released in 2014, thinking I would be watching a film starring a haunted house. Instead, I was pleasantly surprised to find that the house is only a side character, as the devil in this film can seemingly go wherever it pleases, under the right circumstances.
Directed and written by Nicholas McCarthy, the film starts intriguingly with Hannah (Ashley Rickards,) a teenage girl in love with a guy and willing to play some strange game with his creepy uncle so that they can be together. What she either doesn’t know or doesn’t really believe, however, is that the game involves selling her soul to the devil and by the time she realizes what she’s done – it’s too late. The devil, which in this film is more heard than seen, isn’t going to leave her alone. Viewers get to watch it invisibly toss her about like a rag doll and inhabit her body to commit disturbing acts, and one can feel Hannah’s sad desperation as she tries to burn the money that she got for playing the game. Seeing no alternatives, it isn’t long before Hannah decides to kill herself so that she can be free.
Some years later, Leigh (Catalina Sandino Moreno,) the realtor hired to sell the house where she lived – a creepy one with strange burn marks all over the place – walks inside with no knowledge of Hannah or her suicide, yet sees the ghost of Hannah on her first visit, despite no mentions from the owners about any paranormal occurrences. While Leigh tries to figure out the situation with Hannah, whom as first she believes to be an actual breathing human being, what we see of her are mostly her stilted interactions with her emotionally repressed artist sister, Vera, whom she clearly thinks the world of. Viewers don’t see all that much of her though before the devil surprisingly kills her off with the chilling whisper that it doesn’t want her.
Naturally, Vera (Naya Rivera) is confused about her sister’s sudden death at the age of 29, and so she decides to investigate, starting with a visit to the place of her sister’s death. Perhaps not surprisingly to viewers, Vera also sees Hannah. She also sees something else though and gets the hell out of the house, only to have it follow her home. As Vera tries to figure out what killed her sister – and seems to be after her – she finds out about Hannah and learns more about the evil force that drove her to suicide. She learns that “it wants to be all of someone,” and wonder what means – until she horrifyingly finds out.
Then, in the second large time jump of the movie, it’s suddenly six years later, with Vera deciding to confront the devil and find out why she was chosen. Casting props for the decision to star Ava Acres as the girl whose body the devil is now inhabiting – she makes a very convincing devil child – but as for why the devil chose Vera? It’s really up to viewers to decide.
A lot is packed into this film and it takes a lot of turns that a viewer wouldn’t necessarily expect – it’s definitely not your average haunted house movie. But it also raises a lot of questions, the relationship between Leigh and Vera, being one of them. They have a strained one, for reasons never explained at all. On top of that, Leigh’s character largely seems to serve as an introduction to Vera, and I couldn’t help wondering, when it was over, if perhaps the film would have flowed better if it had somehow jumped from Hannah to Vera and left Leigh out altogether, as the jump from character to character was a bit jarring.
I also did not entirely understand the logistics behind the haunting in this film. Hannah had to sell her soul for the devil to haunt her, so why didn’t Vera or Leigh? Minor criticisms aside, however, At the Devil’s Door gets a definite thumbs up from me as a riveting horror film that felt like a different take on the standard haunted house movie.
Having previously created the well-praised horror film, The Pact, in 2012, McCarthy seems to know what he is doing in this particular genre and I hope we see more from him.
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AT THE DEVIL’S DOOR 2014 Review: Gets A Definite Thumbs Up
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