Review: The Devil’s Doorway

The Devil's DoorwayMagdalene asylums or “laundries” were originally designed by Christian Churches in Britain and the Unites States as a place to assist “fallen women.” In Ireland, these laundries came under the Catholic Church, and before long, there were over a dozen, spread out. These places soon became a ghoulish prison for these women, being put to work in harsh environments, abused both physically and emotionally. These places housed prostitutes, women who were pregnant out of wedlock (or through sexual abuse), and orphans. From the beginning in 1922 to the end in 1996, it is though that around 10,000 women were housed there in Ireland under the whip of the nuns. Those who left often had no idea who they were nor where to find any sort of family. It is within these walls that Aislinn Clarke sets her found footage film The Devil’s Doorway.

Is it possible to set a moratorium on found-footage sequences where characters run through a dark tunnel, shaking the camera, jerking it around until BOOM! someone is right in front of the camera. I can’t think of anything more boring to watch in horror films than that sequence. The Devil’s Doorway opens the film with this specific moment, and brings it back around at the end, as if it’s something so profound we must view it twice. 

There’s a lack of originality in the scares; a tragedy since the film has a clever hook: in the 1960’s, two priests are sent by the Vatican to investigate a Virgin Mary statue who’s crying blood at a Magdalene laundry. Father Thomas Riley (Lalor Roddy) and Father John Thornton (Ciaran Flynn) are immediately met with push-back from Mother Superior (Helena Bereen), who provides a verbal lashing towards the church for the way the nuns are treated as well as the low funding for these laundries. Although, she’s not completely innocent, with some skeletons in her closet as well. 

Father John, armed with a 16mm camera, is a brand new priest, springing right from the seminary, ready to submit to a miracle. Father Thomas, unfortunately, isn’t as eager; as a seasoned priest, he’s debunked countless “miracles,” in the process becoming rather bitter about the entire affair. “A waste of your film” he barks at John. Soon enough, things begin to go bump in the night. Or, I should say, beings “wail” in the night, as John is jarred awake by the sound of children hollering and laughing, despite the fact that there are no children present on site. 

The set-ups in The Devil’s Doorway are often quite effective; whether it’s chanting in the hall, or footsteps accompanied by nothingness. It’s the payoff that suffers; despite unsettling imagery, there’s no actual scares in the film. Part of the issue rests in the way the film uses sound. The Devil’s Doorway equates turbulent noises to terror; it’s M.O. being “how loud can we make this sequence,” instead of allowing it to play out silently. It’s this compensation resulting from lack of confidence which is the film’s downfall.  

Thomas doesn’t believe John’s claims that spirits are assaulting him; yet the next scene, much is revealed, changing Thomas’ perspective on the supernatural. It begs the question: why even have that skeptic back-and-forth if it’s resolved almost immediately. The Devil’s Doorway is trapped in tropes, not taking any chance to be it’s own product. 

Eventually, the priests discover a young woman chained up in the basement. Poor Kathleen O’Bryan (Lauren Coe) is not only pregnant but seemingly possessed by a Satanic force, which may also be the cause for the weeping statue.

Finding a hidden satanic sanctuary, Father Thomas mentions that he’s seen one of these before, years earlier. Hey, perhaps Father Merrin was there, too.

If you’ve seen a horror film before, you’ll be able to count down to the very second when each revelation and twist will present itself, eventually crescendoing to the race in the previously mentioned darkened tunnels.

At less than 90 minutes, The Devil’s Doorway never gets boring or wears out its welcome, despite all the shortcomings. I do wish the film were shot traditionally as opposed to the found footage gimmick. There’s never a good reason why Father John should keep filming. It’s also a good thing he’s a steady cameraman, even when being chased by demons. Also pretty lucky that John is good with inserting music and jump-scare cues. Even when there’s an exorcism being performed and objects are catapulted across the room, that camera is held like a pro. 

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