Grief can affect people in many different ways. Some may become withdrawn and depressed, others may resort to drink or drugs, some may pick themselves up and get on with their lives. In The Other Side of the Door, the latest film from Johannes Roberts, best known for his cult hit F and the underrated Noel Clarke alien monster romp Storage 24, sees Maria (Callies) perhaps goes to extremes most of us might resist. When her young son drowns following a car accident, Maria is tempted by a resurrection ritual, which gives her the opportunity to say a proper farewell to her son Oliver. All she has to do is scatter his ashes on the steps of a crumbling old temple near the family home in Mumbai and lock herself inside the temple, as the deceased returns to the corporeal world so she can communicate with him through the closed door. But opening the door before he finally ‘passes’ would be a Very Bad Thing indeed...and there are no prizes for guessing precisely what Maria does halfway through the ritual.
The Other Side of the Door is a well-crafted story, which touches several familiar bases, but perhaps what’s most heartening is that it allows Roberts to work on a much broader canvas than any of his earlier, lower-budget movies. Here we’re in India – there are a handful of gorgeous long shots, which really establish the look and feel of the place – and whilst it’s perhaps unfortunate that there’s only one speaking part for an Indian character (Pillai-Malik’s Piki, who sets Maria off on her ill-advised adventure beyond the grave), the film is suffused with the culture and superstitions of its location. Roberts has plundered not only one of the lesser works of Stephen King (Pet Sematary) but also real-world Hindu spiritualism and Japanese horror cinema, resulting in a film packed with familiar genre imagery – especially the bone-creaking twisted lank-haired figure crawling crab-like up the stairs – tied to a story etched with creeping menace and a genuine sense of dread.
The Other Side of the Door is careful not to shoot its horror-bolt too soon. Once we’ve navigated the difficult credibility-straining hurdle of a grieving mother exhuming her dead son’s ashes and randomly scattering them around a crumbling temple in the middle of nowhere, the film takes its time showing exactly what Maria’s done by opening a door, which should never be opened. Turns out that the spirit of her dead young son is back and he’s bad ass...and Maria’s opened the gateway to the Netherworld, through which unnamed nasties may be inclined to escape. Except the film doesn’t actually go down that potentially-apocalyptic route, preferring a more intimate story, in which the Gatekeeper has crossed over into our world to try and drag the dead lad’s bitter spirit back to the Beyond. Maria is at first delighted when she realises that her son’s apparently-benign spirit is back but soon all the banging doors, flickering lights and peripheral phantom phenomena take on a more sinister aspect, as Maria realises she’s bitten off more than she can chew.
The Other Side of the Door throws a lot of mud at the wall and most of it sticks, thanks to a powerful performance by former Walking Dead star Callies (although Jeremy Sisto is slightly wasted in an under-written role as her husband) and if we’ve a significant criticism it’s that the careful character building and atmosphere of the first hour is cast aside in the last half-hour or so, in favour of a volte face in the narrative, which suddenly hurls demonic possession into the mix. But it’s all slick, well-orchestrated stuff, which hits the required beats time after time, even delivering an interesting, show-stopping ending.
The Other Side of the Door sees Johannes Roberts finally making his mark as a film director of some style; this is one door we’d advise you to step through as soon as possible.
THE OTHER SIDE OF THE DOOR / CERT: 15 / DIRECTOR: JOHANNES ROBERTS / SCREENPLAY: JOHANNES ROBERTS, ERNEST RIERRA / STARRING: SARAH WAYNE CALLIES, JEREMY SISTO, SOFIA ROSINSKY, SUCHITRA PILLAI-MALIK / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW