The raw feel of found footage and the familiar iconography of religion have made both popular in the horror genre. A found footage horror movie deeply rooted in Catholicism seems like a natural fit. The Devil’s Doorway is an excellent example of something being a better idea in theory than practice.
The Devil’s Doorway has an interesting premise. A former real life practice of the Catholic Church were Magdalene Laundries found in Ireland. These institutions were basically homes for prostitutes, unwed mothers, and other “fallen women.” The movie is set in 1960 and based on footage of two priests who had gone to investigate a supposed miracle.
Found footage is an undemanding format that does not punish movies for following tropes. On the contrary, doing the norm is expected as long as it is done competently. The Devil’s Doorway successfully sticks to the same tricks and for the most part does them well; it just does too many.
The movie is familiar from the opening shots. A person holding a camera is apparently running for their life. They are in a dimly lit tunnel or cave and it is obvious that all Hell has broken loose. Suddenly, the camera turns to face a sinister character, the opening credits roll and it is time to take out your checklist:
- Opening text that explains what the audience is about to see
- Priest who struggles with possible loss of faith
- Point of view shots down long corridors that eventually end with a pale child appearing out of nowhere
- Eerie children’s laughter
- Flickering bulb on camera
This is just a small list of the many things reminiscent of other movies. In a vacuum, relying on so many genre standards would not be problematic. As stated earlier, there are only so many things that can be done in a found footage flick. What does hurt The Devil’s Doorway is the presentation. Quite simply, the plot never seems to know what direction it wants to go in. The movies packs in demonic possession, Satanic cults, political and religious commentary, child abuse, abuse of women, abuse of power, and ghosts. It is telling that the movie is less than an hour and a half and still felt too long.
The sad thing is if it were more focused, The Devil’s Doorway would have been scarier and more interesting. In particular, cynical Father Thomas (Lalor Roddy) has a philosophy regarding man’s direct involvement in miracles and evil that would have made for an engrossing investigation. Instead, the audience is left with little more than a tease.
Roddy’s great performance is also essentially wasted. Thomas is one of the most cookie cutter characters to appear on screen this year, down to his mysterious childhood. Still, the Irish actor manages to somehow add depth to the seemingly thin character.
The camera work is also well done. The Devil’s Doorway looks like a home movie of the time, with the cuts looking especially good. These also serve as natural breaks in the story. There are some genuinely good looking scenes leading one to wonder why this was a found footage movie to begin with.
It would be unfair to call The Devil’s Doorway a bad movie. The movie looks good and is bolstered by the strong performance of Roddy. Regrettably, it also fills its thin story with too many ideas and ends up boring the audience more than scaring them.