“At the Devil’s Door” begins its theatrical run in Houston at the Alamo Drafthouse Vintage Park location starting today.
In between breaths of a heated make out session, a teenage girl (Ashley Rickards) believes she’s in love with the boy she just met. He tells her that she can make $500 by simply playing a game. The girl is taken to a trailer in the desert where she plays three rounds of the shell game. After winning the game, she’s told to say her name at the nearby crossroads so that she can hear “him” when he calls for her.
Two sisters, a real estate agent named Leigh (Catalina Sandino Moreno) and an artist named Vera (Naya Rivera), are introduced to the house the girl who played the game lived in. Leigh is brought in to try to sell it by the current owners. After several encounters with the girl at the house, Leigh discovers that the girl committed suicide back in the late 80s and is soon killed by whatever is wearing the girl’s skin. Vera then begins investigating her sister’s death, but turns her life completely upside down in the process.
There’s always been something intriguing about the concept of making a deal with the devil. Greed overpowers logic in order for an individual to obtain what they’ve always dreamed of. Whenever they least expect it, sometimes it’s years after they’ve enjoyed the fruits of their desires and other times it’s shortly after making the deal itself, the devil comes to collect and the borrower always comes to the conclusion that they’ve bitten off more than they can chew when it’s too late for him or her to do anything about it. “At the Devil’s Door” offers a glimpse of something terrifying, but flinches and fails to follow through with a horror experience that’s completely gratifying.
Nicholas McCarthy’s follow up to “The Pact” toys with horror quite exquisitely. Witnessing what occurs in the background while someone unknowingly makes a phone call or fetches a drink for their wife at a party is nerve-racking. The unpredictability sends your brain spiraling into its own imagination as it begins to predict what could happen. The film’s use of mirrors is also more effective than it was in “Oculus.” Catching a glance of a demon as he closes in on his victim is much more intimidating than simply not remembering your horrific actions.
But the events in the film seem to cater more to the bizarre rather than the unnerving. Body spasms, creepy behavior, and hiding babies under furniture can only get you so far. It’s as if “At the Devil’s Door” teases the idea of a demonic bloodbath but never takes its gloves off even after the bell rings. The ending seems to completely destroy what Vera stood for the entire film, but maybe that’s to show how much power resides in the ability to manipulate everyone around you.
The few glimpses of the devil pulling the strings throughout the film seems like a cheap knockoff of both “Jeepers Creepers” and “Pan’s Labyrinth,” but the story itself borrows from the likes of “The Omen” and “Rosemary’s Baby.” Despite its thick, creepy atmosphere and sinister tone, the biggest flaw “At the Devil’s Door” has is that it is constantly knocking on the door of a nightmarish journey and yet it isn’t tenacious enough to take that first step inside.