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.