They say there are only 7 basic plots in the world, and if you’re talking horror, it’s more like 3. In the 83 years since Dracula and Frankenstein, so many horror films have graced the screen that a good one these days need not be original (how can it be at this point?); it just needs to be well made, or offer an original take on an old formula.
There’s almost nothing new in At the Devil’s Door, writer-director Nicholas McCarthy’s chiller starring Catalina Sandino Moreno (Maria Full of Grace) and Glee’s Naya Rivera. Possession, beckoning voices, things that go bump in the night—been there, screamed that. But to answer the most important question a horror fan could ask—is it scary?—At the Devil’s Door is pretty terrifying.
The movie kicks off with a hapless girl (Ashley Rickards) trading her soul for a wad of cash while on vacation, then getting increasingly freaked when something invades her home one rainy night. Leigh, a lonely real estate agent (Moreno) trying to sell the house gets drawn into the sinister goings on along with her artist sister Vera (Rivera). To write more would be spoiling, but needless to say the tension and sense of doom build slowly but surely to some scarifying pay-off moments. I consider myself a die-hard horror freak, but I found myself screaming out loud twice and utterly gripped for the final third of the film.
The most original thing about the movie is its female centric focus; the main cast and even some of the baddies are all women, and sisterly love and Leigh’s thwarted desire for a child are prominent themes. What really sells At the Devil’s Door, though, is its technical polish. The visuals are atmospheric and suggestive; the monsters, when finally revealed, are harrowingly convincing. The sound design is especially outstanding. The score and sound elements—drumming rain, alarms, etc.—are blended masterfully for a supremely creepy effect.
McCarthy has a tin ear for dialogue: plot points are creakily trotted out with little subtlety or realism, though Moreno and Rivera both do a good job rendering their characters. Rivera, so wickedly funny on Glee, plays it straight here: it’s a competent performance that keeps you with Vera as things spiral out of control. Horror fans have long overlooked script and character defects as long as the movie delivers the goods, and At the Devil’s Door does better than most films released in recent memory.
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