Wednesday, March 9, 2016

The Other Side of the Door

3/4

Starring: Sarah Wayne Callies, Jeremy Sisto, Sofia Rosinsky, Suchitra Pillai-Malik

Rated R for Some Bloody Violence

If you're going to mess around with the dead or the supernatural, be sure to follow the rules.  Seriously, has anyone outside of the "Scream" franchise ever seen a horror film?

Believe it or not, "The Other Side of the Door" is actually a good movie.  The story is too formulaic for it to be a great one, but the performances are top-notch, and director Johannes Roberts understands atmosphere and tension.

Maria (Callies) is not coping well with the death of her son.  Her husband Michael (Sisto) and daughter Lucy (Rosinsky) have moved on, but she has not.  After attempting suicide to escape the pain, her maid Piki (Pillai-Malik) offers her an opportunity to temporarily bring back her son to say her goodbyes and make peace with him.  When she does, she makes the mistake of allowing him back into our world.  When this becomes apparent, she's at first delighted, but there's a serious downside to having a ghost in the house...even if he's your dead son.

What surprised me about this movie is the strength of the performances, specifically Sarah Wayne Callies.  Known for her roles on the hit TV series "The Walking Dead" and "Prison Break," Callies is very, very good as a grieving mother.  This is especially noteworthy in a genre that is infamous for bad acting ("Strangeland" is one of many torturous examples).  I felt her grief and pain, and that goes a long way in selling a screenplay set in the supernatural.  Particularly if its as tired as this one.  The ever reliable Jeremy Sisto and Suchitra Pillai-Malik are also very good, but Callies is the real star of the show.

Johannes Roberts knows what he's doing.  He understands that in a ghost story like this, cutting the camera releases the tension.  He may move the camera and whatever is in front of it too fast at some points, but he does favor long takes.  And he's also good at setting up shocks.

Unfortunately, he and his cast are trapped in an underwritten screenplay that just when things are getting interesting, plays it safe and sticks to the formula.  There are a couple of twists, one or two of which I was not expecting, but the damage is done.

Let me tell you what I wanted to happen.  I wanted the film to explore Maria's grief more and have it drive the plot.  I know that sounds pretentious for a horror movie, but let me clarify.  The film's set-up is so strong and Callies provides a great foundation for something original to be done with her character, but the screenplay doesn't allow it.  As soon as the ghost story kicks in, it turns to formula.  Callies and Roberts do the best they can with the details, but there's only so much they can do with a screenplay that is stuck on autopilot.

Nevertheless, I do recommend the film.  A person who is looking for a pure horror film may not enjoy what I liked about it, but they will still see some great acting and some decent shocks.  These days, you can't ask for more than that in a horror movie.

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