Whatever lurks on The Other Side of the Door, you’re better off not knowing because it’s hands down the worst horror film this critic has seen since the execrable The Last Exorcism Part II. And I’ve seen Eli Roth’s The Green Inferno, which is pretty fucking bad. I’m sure there are a few others I’ve missed along the way; I never got around to seeing Annabelle, for one. But this right here is a whole other bucket of awfulness, a trite mash-up of clichés and audience pandering that masquerades as a supernatural chiller of substance.
In the most direct possible terms, it’s Pet Sematary with an Eastern twist, as an American mother in Mumbai (Sarah Wayne Callies, The Walking Dead) who’s grieving the death of her son in a vaguely explained car accident learns of a way to bring him back for a proper goodbye. Of course things go awry when she flouts the very strict rules of dabbling with the spirit world, running afoul of a cabal of ghostly cannibalistic south Indian tribesmen, and a vengeful deity who polices the thin boundary between the living and the dead.
There’s nothing particularly wrong with that set-up, besides the typical Hollywood othering of foreign cultures. Grief and guilt over the loss of a child is still a lightly trodden path for horror, with maybe only the aforementioned Pet Sematary and Nicolas Roeg’s Don’t Look Now standing out at opposite ends of the spectrum. So the lack of originality could be defended if it were to explore in any kind of depth, say, how its setting in modern India, a place struggling to reconcile its traditions and cultures with its emergence as a cosmopolitan global player, might add colour or subtext to what’s been done before.
But it doesn’t. In fact it pretty much wastes its location entirely, the bulk of it shot in a shabby-chic mansion on a soundstage that could be anywhere in the world, and only intermittently venturing into the crowded, labyrinthine market streets of old Mumbai, or the waters of the Arabian Sea lapping on the city’s foreshore, to provide any sense of place.
To make matters worse, once it’s conveyed its elevator pitch, The Other Side of the Door quickly deteriorates into a succession of ideas ripped off from other, not necessarily better movies, many of them far too recent for homage. A piano tinkles in the middle of the night, just like Insidious; a child plays with someone or something that isn’t there, as in Poltergeist; a creepy, stringy haired demon lady stalks our main protagonist à la Ringu. I could go on. Meanwhile, the film does nothing with its own blindingly obvious themes screaming to be teased out. Perhaps the ‘dumb Americans abroad’ trope struck too raw a nerve?
On top of that, the whole shebang is marked by oppressive sound design that amplifies every breath or knock as if pregnant with suspense, but the only effect of miking the entire film like it’s a cooking programme is to render its plentiful jump scares redundant even for those who enjoy that sort of thing.
Very, very occasionally, writer/director Johannes Roberts betrays the deft hand of someone who knows what he’s doing, such as the disapproving glance of a stone angel looming over Callies’ character as she digs up her dead son’s grave. She herself is commendably distraught in both her grief, and her terror in realising what she’s let out from behind the titular door. In fact none of the cast – the antique dealer husband (Jeremy Sisto), the curly-haired moppet (Sofia Rosinsky), the mysterious housekeeper (Suchitra Pillai) – are deficits, all things considered.
But anything it its favour is swamped by the overwhelming shitness on display, which really shouldn’t come as a surprise from a filmmaker known variously for cash-in Brit-horrors that fall far below the prospects of their premises (F, Storage 24) and made-for-TV SyFy garbage (the Irish-shot Roadkill). I guess it’s on me for expecting any different.