From Johannes Roberts comes The Other Side of the Door, a supernatural horror film that plays out like Pet Cemetery in India, whilst also marking Roberts’ first foray into studio horror.
The film tells the story of grieving parents Maria (Sarah Wayne Callies– The Walking Dead) and Michael (Jeremy Sisto – May) who are recovering from the untimely death of their son in a tragic accident. In the pit of her despair, Maria is given hope by her housekeeper, Piki (Suchitra Pillai), who tells her about an ancient temple in the South which could help her see her child again. If Maria scatters her son’s ashes on the steps of the temple then barricades herself inside, when the sun sets she will be able to communicate with the dead. Though, she is warned not to open the door or she will risk letting something sinister through.
Roberts’ first three films were co-directed with James Eaves another Indy British filmmaker specialising in low-budget backwoods horror. After 2004’s Hellbreeder Roberts went solo, eventually scoring a surprise (though mystifying) Tom Savini appearance in 2005’s scuzzy Forest of the Damned. 2010’s F (The Expelled) is arguably Roberts’ best and shortest film, putting veteran villain David Schofield through the ringer as an anxious teacher being terrorized by his ex-pupils. Since then Roberts directed TV movie Roadkill starring Stephen Rae and then Noel Clarke vehicle Storage 24 (after a lovable anti-mobile phone advert), the latter saw a significant step forward in Roberts’ scale and managing of visual effects.
The Other Side of the Door, then, comes as the natural progression of a filmmaker who’s spent a lot of time doing low-budget minimal-scope horror flicks. The studio involvement, as plenty seasoned horror fans know, isn’t exactly a sign of quality. The spooks here are symptomatic of a serious studio misunderstanding: that scares come from surprise, shock, and screeching turns of overwrought music. There’s little in the way of suspense and the few moments that do scare manage it by exploiting the audience’s patience.
The monster of the film, though used to terrific effect, is a spare set of arms away from becoming a stock monster. The casting of Javier Botet as the vengeful god is a blessing and a curse; the Spanish actor has already lent his unique build to the monsters of all four Rec films, Mama, and even The Revenant, ensuring he’s fast becoming the shape of contemporary nightmares. That’s all very well but, when overexposed, The Other Side of the Door’s threat slowly starts to look too familiar. Little Deaths, ABCs of Death 2, and A Field in England special effects maestro Dan Martin brings a lot of wallop to the film, ensuring that many visuals startle nicely. However the film unfortunately favours gimmicky music cues and needless CGI tampering over its natural atmosphere.
Which is a shame when the elements of a good story are here, either buried under the studio’s mollycoddled scares, or Robert’s anxieties of under-performance. French new wave auteur Alexandre Aja serves as producer and was probably a great a help in saving some of the film’s riskier moments from the cutting room floor. The Other Side of the Door can be commended for confronting the audience with child death, boldly going a step further than many studio projects can with its Pet Cemetery influence. But that boldness is lost to cheap thrills, undermining the film’s more heartfelt horror and allowing any attachment to slip away.
The Other Side of the Door has a lot going for it: gorgeous location-shooting, a good Joseph Bishara (Insidious, The Conjuring) soundtrack, many solid effects, atmospheric cinematography (courtesy of Aja’s cinematographer Maxime Alexandre), and an attempt to refresh supernatural horror using Indian iconography. All these aspects are however sullied by blatantly dull ideas and overuse of CGI elements. In the end it feels like Roberts and the studio are totally unaware of how effective the simple ideas of the plot are, blindly turning up dials without ever stopping to appreciate where they got it right.
The Other Side of the Door is given edge by the rarity of Indian locations in the genre, but simultaneously dulled by exhibiting all the symptoms of Western studio horror.
Dir. Johannes Roberts
Stars. Sarah Wayne Callies, Jeremy Sisto, Sofia Rosinsky, Logan Creran, Suchitra Pillai, Javier Botet