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When raising the dead, just follow the rules: “The Other Side of the Door”

March 3, 2016

 

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Well, it’s Oscar time again, and apparently the movie gods felt the best way to honor this hallowed event was to dump a couple of movies into my local theaters that could only owe their existence to a need to show how great the nominees are by comparison. Or maybe it’s the Universe’s way of saying, Yea, on this weekend as we behold some of the best examples of the art form, know thee that there’s still an awful lot of crap out there, and, hey, let’s face it: they can’t all be Spotlight. So, instead this weekend I took in The Other Side of the Door–which suggests that maybe bringing the dead back to life could be a bad idea.

Okay, so The Other Side of the Door. is what I call a “Just Follow the Directions!” horror movie, joining movies such as Pet Semetary, Wake Wood, and, I guess, Gremlins. Basically, you have a protagonist who’s dabbling in some kind of supernatural or occult phenomena, and are presented with a couple basic rules, which they choose to ignore because, hey, we need a movie, right?

"I can probably just skim this part."

“I can probably just skim this part.”

In TOSotD, it is bringing the dead back to life that, unsurprisingly, goes haywire. Sarah Wayne Callies (the wife no one liked on The Walking Dead and currently starring on USA’s Colony) plays Maria, an American expatriate living in Mumbai with her husband Michael (Jeremy Sisto) and young daughter Lucy (Sofia Rosinsky). As the movie begins, the family is still reeling from the death of their firstborn child, a son named Oliver who was killed in a car accident.

Well, I guess the girl child ain’t cutting the mustard as far as parental affection goes, because Maria attempts suicide. Luckily Michael find her just in time, and is really understanding about it and never once points out “You need to be a freaking mother to your daughter!”

"Mommy loves you, sweetie. Just not enough to keep on living."

“Mommy loves you, sweetie. Just not enough to keep on living.”

While she is convalescing, the family maid, Piki (Suchitra Pillai), tells Maria that she knows of a place and ritual where they can bring Oliver back from the other side for a few moments. Maybe if Maria has the chance to say her goodbyes she’ll get the closure she needs to move on (and not, you know, off herself and leave her daughter motherless). Of course, as with any perversion of the most basic and immutable of the laws of nature, this procedure has some rules involved. Well, one rule. A biggie.

The procedure requires Maria to bring Oliver’s ashes to a temple in the middle of nowhere and, uh, just hanging out there. But when the deceased shows up, Maria can only communicate through the heavy door of the temple. She cannot, under any circumstances, open that door to see her lost son. Guess which part of the procedure Maria ignores? Yeah (sigh).

JUST DON'T OPEN THAT DOOR! THAT'S ALL YOU NEED TO DO!

JUST DON’T OPEN THAT DOOR! THAT’S ALL YOU NEED TO DO!

Well, next thing you know Maria’s household is being terrorized by ghost Oliver who, unlike corporeal Oliver, is a real dick. He bites his sister, screws with the house, and, oh yeah, kills Piki! On top of that, Maria’s family is terrorized by some cremation-ash-covered fakirs (which aren’t really scary, as they just stand there and point accusingly) and even the six-armed death deity Myrtu. Myrtu looks scary, but mostly just bums around trying not especially hard to take Oliver’s soul back to the Other Side.

"So, uh, think you can give me a hand with my dead kid?"

“So, uh, think you can give me a hand with my dead kid?”

All in all, a real smart move opening that door, Maria. I mean, I hate to employ an internet meme, but…you had one job! Just don’t open the door! I mean, you are communing with the dead, not putting together an IKEA bookshelf. Maybe you should pay attention to the directions! I think pretty much any normal human being would understand that maybe lifting the veil that separates this world and the spirit world is a detail-oriented task. Not, apparently, Maria. I kind of get the feeling if she was in one of those 1970s Airport movies and land the plane she’d just disregard the whole “lowering the landing gear” part because, hey screw it.

"Uh, mom maybe you and dad should just make me a new brother."

“Uh, mom maybe you and dad should just make me a new brother.”

The Other Side of the Door is a little eerie and pretty atmospheric, but it’s not very scary. The movie never really commits to the notion of evil Oliver until it’s too late, and by then Maria and Michael’s rock-dumbness is so infuriating it’s just hard to care what happens to them. Additionally, director Johannes Roberts (Storage 24) never met a jump-scare he didn’t want to overuse, so rather than build a genuine sense of dread, he mostly just likes throwing things at the screen and accompanying them with a sharp music cue.

So...are you peacocking or what?

So…are you peacocking or what?

The only bright spot of TOSotD is in the early portion of Oliver’s haunting, when his presence is indicated by the appearance of Oliver’s favorite stuffed lion (which had been buried with him). If this movie had been about a haunted stuffed lion terrorizing the family it would have been about a million times better.

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