MARCH 4, 2016
I have a son now - have I mentioned that? (pause for groans) But seriously, as mentioned in, oh, every other review I've written for the past two years, having a kid changed how I approach horror movies, in particular ones like The Other Side of the Door, as the movie is about a woman (Sarah Wayne Callies, someone I'm always happy to see) who loses her son in a car accident and tries to kill herself to end her grief. The family's nanny, Piki, feels sorry for her and tells her about a place that will allow her to contact her son; she can't SEE or TOUCH him, because he's (see title), but she can talk to him and say what she needs to say. Under no circumstances, Piki warns, should she open the door no matter what - and this being a horror movie, you can guess what she does (spoiler: she opens the goddamn door).
Since he dies in flashback (he's already dead when the movie begins), thus softening the blow, this was probably the most conflicting moment for me to watch as a horror fan who is also a parent; two years ago I'd probably end up hating the movie because of this moment. Because the horror fan part of me is rolling his eyes, yelling at Callies for doing the one thing she was instructed not to do - but the dad in me was wondering why she took so long to do that. If my son was taken from me and I had a chance to talk to him on the other side of a door, you can bet your ass that I'd have the damn thing opened before he finished saying "Daddy is that you?", damn the consequences. I have come to realize I am far more sensitive than some other parents when it comes to things like this (they're able to separate the "it's a dumb horror movie" element enough to know that such a thing would be impossible in the first place, whereas I am not), so I just want to make that clear when I say I enjoyed the movie. When the plot hinges on something that 90% of the audience might consider completely stupid (it's the equivalent of a road trip movie that goes to hell because our heroes opt to take some creepy ass "shortcut"), I know it's bound to keep them at bay for the rest, but for me I was totally fine with it.
But I think the real reason it didn't affect me as much as I feared once I knew it was about a dead kid (I didn't know much about the movie before I sat down) is because it's more or less a Pet Sematary remake, with a grieving parent being told of a place that would bring their loved one back to them, albeit with warnings that are ignored. Bad things happen, more people die, and at the very end we realize no one's learned their damn lesson. In fact, Mary Lambert is actually thanked in the credits, which made me wonder if they had to run the movie by her to make sure there was nothing legally actionable about the movie. I kid; there's obviously enough of a difference that no one could be held accountable any more than Costner and Reynolds could be sued over Waterworld re: Road Warrior, but speaking strictly as an easily upset dad, the similar beats of a story I know very well kept me from freaking out for the most part, because I've more or less been down this road before (and in far harsher manner - nothing here is remotely as awful as the little coffin spilling over at the funeral in Pet - good lord that is traumatizing).
One of the biggest changes (besides the dynamic - it's the mom, not the dad, who goes off to the magical burial place) is the setting. India, to be specific, which gives the film a unique look and invaluable production value - the authentic, slightly rundown (and giant) family home alone sets it apart from the countless anonymous middle/upper class homes we've seen over the past few years in (name a Blumhouse movie). But there are some city-set scenes that also give it plenty of personality the plot occasionally lacks, and the script wisely skips past the "stranger in a strange land" element - we learn early on that they moved there for the husband's job several years ago, so they're obviously pretty comfortable in the locale instead of bumbling about needing everything explained to them.
The husband is played by Jeremy Sisto, who is always an interesting guy to watch and chooses his horror projects carefully (or at least, he has since Hideaway). Callies is the main star here, with Sisto usually off at work or something and thus not witness to any of the spooky goings-on. It doesn't QUITE land maybe as well as they hoped, but this allows a late-period wrinkle where Callies starts to confess what she's been seeing to him and he starts wondering (as do we) if she's just crazy, that her grief finally got the best of her. It'd be a fun twist to take (and would make the Pet Sematary lifts actually kind of inspired - distracting us with a familiar story to distract us away from the more plausible answer), but (spoiler) they don't opt for that route. Sisto finds out about all the supernatural stuff in a pretty good way, however, and he makes the most of his slightly reduced screentime. Indeed, one of the few times my "dad gene" kicked in was when he broke down at the sight of his son's toys and clothes on fire, which is something the wife had done to try to ward off his evil ghost.
Unlike Gage Creed, their kid doesn't really come back in a flesh and blood way - we see him in flashes, but for the most part he's just a "presence", with chairs moving by themselves and books being dropped at Callies' feet when he wants to hear a bedtime story. But modern horror movies need something physical to cause people to jump, so we learn early on that there are these creepy Rob Zombie-looking dudes who live on the flesh of the dead, and once Callies opens the door they start menacing her on a regular basis (read: when the movie needs a jump scare). The director is fond of showing one of them off in the distance, startling the characters into walking backwards a bit into another (obviously much closer) one, a trick that gets a bit old but is still preferable to fake ones where she's scared by her husband or a coat rack or whatever the hell. In fact I don't think the movie actually has any of those cheap shot ones at all, though I did leave for a bit to get a drink (this theater allows alcohol and it was my birthday, so I indulged) so maybe I missed one. Either way, it's hardly Insidious in terms of effective jolt moments, but at least they aimed to make them honest jolts, and however successful they ultimately are is kind of up to the viewer anyway.
I knew so little about the movie before going in that I didn't realize until it was over (there were no titles at the beginning of the film) that it was directed by Johannes Roberts, someone I consider myself a fan of based on his previous two films. One was Storage 24, a fun little flick that takes a slasher template and applies it to an alien monster movie (and sets it inside a personal storage warehouse), and the other is Expelled, which I saw as F and liked enough to put in my book. It's his first wide(ish) release in the US, and it's a shame that Fox didn't seem to have much faith in it, doing the same thing they did with the inferior The Pyramid in the December before last (namely, putting it on a few hundred screens and not really advertising it). It's not the best movie of the year or anything, but it's a solid entry in the "careful what you wish for" sub-genre of supernatural horror (the minor allusion to "Bobby" from Dead of Night should make some old-school fans smile) and, for genre fans, a far better showcase for Ms. Callies than Walking Dead ever offered her (seriously, did the writers just hate her guts or what?). It'll be a big Redbox hit, at least.
What say you?