Tag Archives: found footage movies

Do Not Open

The Devil’s Doorway

by Hope Madden

So many horror films delve into those murky holy waters of Catholicism. So many horror movies are clearly made by lifelong non-Catholics. If Aislinn Clarke’s The Devil’s Doorway gets extra points, it’s for knowing the religion it is lambasting.

Two priests—one young, one a veteran—head into dangerous spiritual territory in a film that fully understands that you will compare it to The Exorcist. How can you not?

The Devil’s Doorway follows Fr. Thomas Riley (Lalor Roddy) and Fr. John Thornton (Ciaran Flynn) to a Magdalene Laundry, one of Ireland’s infamous workhouses populated by women the country wanted to hide and exploit.

The setting itself is a way of inverting the gravitas of The Exorcist, which saw two priests—one firm in his belief, the other confronting a crisis of faith—come to the aid of an innocent girl facing the corruption of her purity from something demonic.

Here, Fr. Riley, the elder priest, has to face his own crisis of faith. But his belief has been stretched to breaking by the corruption of the church itself, as manifest by this place.

So, they go to investigate a miracle but find something more predictably menacing is afoot.

There is an earnestness in the battle between faith and cynicism in this film. The Exorcist and films like it, those that saw the wayward horror of man as only correctable with help from above, have long given way to something else. A demonic possession now feels like it happens within holy walls because that’s where the devil lives in the first place.

While most films of this ilk simply take potshots, The Devil’s Doorway mourns the corrosion of something worthwhile and holy. Applause for finding an honest statement to make within this over-worked subgenre, although the congratulations belong primarily to Roddy.

The Irish actor finds truth in Fr. Riley—Doubting Thomas’s—struggle. He stands out as the only sane person, the only responsible adult in the house. And though the Mother Superior role is written with evil relish (as per usual), Helena Bereen’s delivery stings in a way that is eerily authentic.

Until it’s not.

We get it. Nuns are creepy. Twelve years of Catholic school clarified that.

The film gets a bit caught in genre trappings, and what starts as an indictment of the church becomes so punchdrunk on jump scares it loses its focus entirely. The found-footage gimmick works well enough for a while, but devolves in the end into something so familiar it’s almost sad.

The Devil’s Doorway started out with promise, but like so many lapsed Catholics, it lost its way.

Go Stand In the Corner

Blair Witch

by George Wolf

Buried now under so many years of bad found footage movies and viral marketing gimmicks, it’s easy to forget that in 1999, The Blair Witch Project was a scary sensation for good reason: it was creepy and frightening on a brilliantly primal level. It may be impossible now to view that film without the baggage nearly twenty years have added, but the main complaint from the naysayers is usually “it’s not scary…nothing happens!”

Director Adam Wingard hears you, and he has something for you.

Wingard’s Blair Witch began last year with the unassuming title The Woods, before unveiling itself as a BWP sequel (Book of Shadows  is wisely ignored) a few months back. Repeating the genius of the original film’s “is it real?” firestorm wasn’t going to happen, but this rope-a-dope title switch was an early sign of Wingard’s solid instincts for both limitation and opportunity.

Remember poor Heather from BWP? Her brother James (James Allen McCune) thinks he glimpses her in a strange online video, so he tracks down the poster, Lane (Wes Robinson). Lane says he found the tape while hiking in the Black Hills Forest, the same area in Maryland where Heather, Mike and Josh went missing years before.

James’s friend Lisa (Callie Hernandez) is the budding documentarian this time, so along with friends Ashley (Corbin Reid) and Peter (Brandon Scott), they head into the forest, filming their search for the mysterious house deep inside it where, hopefully, Heather can still be found.

Wingard (You’re Next) and usual screenwriter Simon Barrett know we know some of what’s coming, so they serve it up. Strange noises at night, twigs, and piles of stones are all here (which, if this is the same witch at work, they should be) but we also get an eerie expansion of the ways time and space seem to break down inside the forest.

There are plenty more jump scares, too, and then a sly acknowledgement that this device can quickly grow tiresome, before it’s on to the main event. The tension, naturally, doesn’t feel as tight as when we first went into these woods, but Wingard, as he did with the film’s “fake” title, is confidently exploiting his chance to bring our guard down.

Once inside the house, things most definitely happen, and it’s a helluva fun ride.

The pace becomes almost breakneck, and as the point of view is mainly through a video camera, we’re scanning all corners of the screen for a light source, a way out, someone standing in the corner..or worse.

And if you have one certain phobia, expect to squirm plenty.

Blair Witch is Wingard and Barrett’s most complete film, because it understands why the original Project was scary, and how to honor that horror legacy while turning the action up a notch.

Or three.