The Other Side of the Door (2016)
★★ / ★★★★
Modern supernatural horror movies verge on comedy these days because many of the visuals end up looking so computerized, so fake, so cheap-looking, we are immediately taken out of what could be terrifying experiences. For a while, “The Other Side of the Door,” written by Johannes Roberts and Ernest Riera, shows signs of becoming a solid horror flick because the premise genuinely intrigues but soon it proves to be cursed just like its contemporaries. When black eyes, veiny skin, and green leaves turning brown in mere seconds are shown, cue the eye-rolling.
In deep mourning and feeling crippling guilt due to her young son’s death, Maria (Sarah Wayne Callies) takes a whole bottle of pills and goes to sleep. Her husband (Jeremy Sisto) gets to her just in time, calls for help, and saves her life. Their housekeeper, Piki (Suchitra Pillai), feels she can help Maria to move on and so she suggests that the mother take the train to her village, walk deep in the woods, enter a temple, and lock herself inside throughout the night—a place where Piki’s people believe that the line between life and death is so thin, the living and the dead are able to communicate with one another.
Perhaps if Maria had a chance to say goodbye to her son, she could continue to live her life. However, Piki warns Maria that no matter what happens, once the communication has started, the door must not be opened until sunrise.
The foreign setting contributes significantly to the spooky atmosphere and continuously increasing tension. The story takes place in India and there is an authentic look and feel to the casting, the extras, the clothes, the outdoor markets, and the establishing mythos. When Piki talks about what her culture believes in and what rules must be followed, the camera focuses on the performer’s face indicating that we must hang onto her every word and intonation. At one point or another, she is our compass.
There is only one flashback and it is utilized effectively. Surprisingly emotional, it points to the roots of why Maria blames herself for Oliver’s death. It is quite uncommon in horror pictures to show such an emotionally charged, human scene in which just about everyone are likely able to empathize with those involved. It reminds us that superior horror flicks tend to have something personal at stake for their characters. It is not just about the anticipation, the jump scares, and the screaming.
Less impressive are typical tropes where an animal looks solemnly into the shadows as it detects an unseen malevolent presence, something creepy happening on a dark, rainy night, and shocking encounters being reduced to mere nightmares. These elements are unnecessary, painfully pedestrian, some might say insulting; it might have been more effective if Maria were written almost as an investigator—rerouting her grief into progressive action like doing her own research to try to figure out how she could save herself, husband, and her daughter from her own mistake. Alas, that is not how the movie was written. It settles for something far less when it could have been a horror picture to notice and remember.
Directed by Johannes Roberts, “The Other Side of the Door,” a British-Indian film, made me wonder if more American horror movies were set and actually shot in other countries. Perhaps it would cure us from being stuck in telling the same old stories about haunted houses, serial killers, and the like. Not to mention the same look and feel from the ones we usually get. Every country in the world has their own stories. Imagine if they could inspire us to put our spin on their narratives and create something original.