The Devil's Doorway Movie Review
Written by Rachel Knightley
Released by Kew Media
Directed by Aislinn Clarke
Written by Martin Brennan, Aislinn Clarke and Michael B. Jackson
2018, 76 minutes, Not Yet Rated
Frightfest UK Premiere on 25th August 2018
Lalor Roddy as Father Thomas
Ciaran Flynn as Father John
Helena Bereen as Mother Superior
Lauren Coe as Kathleen
The “Magdalen Laundries” were homes for women and girls who were orphaned, mentally ill, pregnant outside wedlock or born outside wedlock – all the “dirty wee secrets” of Catholic Ireland. It’s autumn 1960, and the Vatican has sent Father Thomas Riley and Father John Thornton to an Irish home for ‘fallen women’, to investigate a reported miracle: a statue of the Virgin Mary weeping tears of blood.
The seasoned, kindly and gently disappointed Father Thomas Riley (in a deftly nuanced, sensitive performance from Game of Thrones’ Lalor Roddy) leads the investigation. He’s not expecting Mary’s blood tears to have a holy source: the “miracles” he’s investigated over the years have always been very clever, but never once miraculous. His young colleague Father John (a compellingly well-meaning, intellectually curious Ciaran Flynn, Robin Hood) has the job of filming the investigation and, behind the camera, he presses Father Thomas on what he does believe in if he refuses to believe miracles are possible. As he picks with his tools at the eyes of Mary’s statue, Father Thomas finally tells Father John what he believes in is being a good man.
The Mother Superior in charge (utterly convincingly played by Helena Bereen) has claimed there are no children, yet Cathleen claims there are and voices and toys are appearing every night. But the potentially holy mystery of the statue is quickly overshadowed by a decidedly unholy one, when the priests discover a girl, barely more than a child, has been chained up in the basement. Cathleen O’Brien (a modest, powerful Lauren Coe) is an innocent with all kinds of knowledge and powers beyond years and nature. She’s showing every sign of the demonic possession Father Thomas still refuses to believe in, even against the evidence of his own eyes.
Writer-director Aislinn Clarke’s film is as well-crafted as it is well-informed. It wears its depth of knowledge lightly, with accent, vocabulary and setting giving a solid sense of place and time that ground the story without upstaging it. The style is confident, but unapologetically puts substance first. This is more a story of humans than demons, and Clarke has made decisions that support that: there’s no gore for gore’s sake, no corners cut by cheap exposition: this is an issue-led demonic possession film, letting its themes and questions speak through its characters and events. Plot and character elegantly and convincingly, each one speaking with an individual, authentic voice. Expect an intelligently sinister exploration of the human soul and all its moral ambiguities, subtly and naturally explored.
While some may be disappointed in The Devil’s Doorway not going for the extreme scares, it does go for what will always be the best scares: playing with the contents of the audience’s mind, our fears we are alone and our fears that we are not. Clarke marries her use of horror tropes with a deep empathy with Irish history and its victims, and calls on us not only to recognise the victims of injustice, but to recognise how important it is to keep the doorway of belief or imagination open, to fight the false certainty that stops us seeing the truth of what’s in front of us, whether good or bad. When the Mother Superior points out to Father Thomas that many of these girls “had fathers who were fathers, Father”, she is laughing at social action that women have since only begun to rise from the ashes of. As the first film to come out of Northern Ireland written and directed by a woman, it’s also very much part of its own, very important, story, with a message that is very much about this world through the use of the next.
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