Johannes Roberts’ The Other Side of the Door is a maddening tangle of contradictions. Amidst its flashes of creativity lies a frustrating dependence on genre clichés that ultimately hampers its effectiveness a little too much for it to elevate itself too far above average.
Maria and Michael (portrayed respectively by Sarah Wayne Callies and the often-underrated Jeremy Sisto) are an American couple living in India. Living a subdued existence, they try to provide a peaceful life for their daughter Lucy (Sofia Rosinsky) as they try to move on from the death of their young son Oliver, who was killed in a horrific accident when Maria couldn’t rescue him from their car after it plunged into the sea. This provides the film with some of its most effective dramatic work, with the devastation the incident caused the family and the severity of Maria’s guilt given more than enough airtime to allow for a bit of an emotional connection to grow between us and the family.
Their Indian housekeeper Piki (Suchitra Pillai-Malik) comes to Maria with a suggestion: she can provide her with an opportunity to say her final goodbyes to Oliver through the medium of a religious ritual. The deal, however, has one condition: once Maria has travelled to the ancient temple where all this can take place, under no circumstances can she open the door from behind which Oliver will be speaking to her.
The Other Side of the Door starts to flag around here. Firstly, there’s something inherently unsympathetic about any character, under any circumstance, who takes such a glaring “Do Not Press This Button” warning quite so lightly, and there’s a gratingly convoluted feel to that particular sequence, as though cynically planted as an awkward device to move the plot forward at any cost. After the spirit has escaped and increasingly terrible things start happening to the family, two instances of questionable characterisation come to the fore. Firstly, Sisto’s Michael, while visibly concerned about his wife’s mental condition, blithely accepts her papery explanations for her erratic behaviour with little to no follow-up until it’s far too late. Worse still, the character of Piki falls into that particularly well-worn of one-note characters: the foreign housekeeper who exists in the story for no reason other than to provide the audience with the CliffNotes version of the mythology the main characters are dealing with.
While some of the recurring motifs are a little old-hat (piano plays spookily of its own accord, dog barks at unseen figures etc. etc.) The Other Side of the Door does score some points in the visuals department. The spirits of the children are undeniably creepy, and the central “villain” reveal is sharply effective. Overall though, these brighter elements struggle to really ever take flight in a final act which, though boasting a refreshingly stinging ending, feels a little muddled and overcrowded. Full of ambition but a little too willing to fall back on time-honoured safety nets, this one can’t ever put together the momentum it needs to really leave a mark.