Day 24: Female-Helmed Horror Movies For October
The Devil’s Doorway
Directed by Aislinn Clarke
Written by Aislinn Clarke, Martin Brennan and Michael B. Jackson
1 hour, 17 minutes
In Ireland in 1960, at one of those terrible Magdalene Laundry convents the Catholic Church used to horrifically imprison women deemed sinful (unmarried and pregnant, sex workers, mentally ill or whatever else they didn’t like), two priests, Father John, the hopeful newbie (Ciaran Flynn), and Father Thomas, the cynical veteran (Lalor Roddy), are called in to investigate a supposed miracle. The Virgin Mary statue has been crying blood. The letter that tipped them off wasn’t sent by the venomous Mother Superior (Helena Bereen) but anonymously. Mother Superior denies this crying statue thing but then the convent reveals itself to be full of evil, both real world and otherworldly. For instance, they find out that there’s a very young teenager named Kathleen (Lauren Coe, staggering) chained up in the basement, because the nuns think she’s demonic.
This is one of my favorites from this month. It’s so rich. World-class performances, terrific cinematography (a real feat for a found footage film) and boy, is this one about something. Bereen brings tremendous restraint to her performance as the Mother Superior. She keeps the degree of her evil such a perfect mystery and yet still manages to spit frustration with the men in her life. Men who are all instantly her superior, even though she’s older and more experienced and as she puts it, in charge of taking care of their dirty work. She even points out to these priests she sees as self-righteous do-gooders that many of the girls here are pregnant by other priests. But even while you agree with her about the hypocrisy, her crimes are horrific. And that’s just the Mother Superior. So that gives you a hint at how layered this whole movie is.
Clarke does a clever job of justifying the found footage angle. It feels both a necessity and a bold way to get intimately into this otherwise cold, restrained world. There are things we see but they don’t (things that would likely send the priests running), because this was in the 60’s, before they could so easily watch back the footage. Voiceover from other recordings and other bits of footage are cut together, as opposed to just a straight, ongoing record of the events.
The convent is a decrepit, labyrinthian location and Clarke relishes using the crap out of it. You feel trapped and desperate just like her characters. I don’t think there is a single scene outside the convent compound and only a few beats outside at all. This is a movie that knows how to utilize its single, stunning location, unlike “The Open House” and “Tormented.”
Flynn and Roddy are both tremendous as these two sides of the faith coin. But neither ever feels like they’re just spouting off, “I believe in miracles/I don’t.” You find yourself a bit torn that these men are allowed to throw around their authority so freely just because they are men, even though they do appear to be so just. Fathers John and Thomas are both feeling, caring people and pursue the truth and fairness consistently throughout the movie. So when Kathleen endures so much, it’s even more heartbreaking because of their efforts. That and due to a tremendous, lingering shot when poor Kathleen gives silent testimony to the priests’ camera.
It’s as much and perhaps more about the real-life horrors of the Catholic Church and patriarchy as it is about ghosts or demons and these themes are hit with such incisive anger and sadness. “The Devil’s Doorway” has such teeth. It’s a beautiful, assured feature debut from Aislinn Clarke and I can’t wait to see what else she wants to say. She is the first woman in Northern Ireland to write and direct a feature film and has an extensive background in shorts, radio, TV and theater as well. You should read just all of the interviews with her. She seems to be a thoughtful, driven lady who makes movies with purpose and is also a bonafide horror fan. Check out this amazing photo of her hanging with the Soska Sisters. How adorable are they?!
“The Devil’s Doorway” is a keeper. I’m so lucky I had to buy it since it isn’t available for rent just yet. This is your homework for tonight, folks. And then I’m going to need so many dinner dates to discuss it. I’m so damn inspired.