While it may not necessarily be a contender for “Best Horror Film of 2016”, The Other Side of the Door is still a solid supernatural thriller that showcases its Indian backdrop marvelously, features a strong performance from The Walking Dead alum Sarah Wayne Callies, and does an admirable job of trying to bring something new to a very familiar premise.
At the start of The Other Side of the Door, we meet Maria (Callies) and Michael (Jeremy Sisto), who have been transplanted from the States to India as part of Michael’s job as an antiques dealer. Once Maria reveals she’s expecting their first child, the couple decides to officially make Mumbai their home and raise their family abroad. Flash forward several years and we meet the now established husband and wife, who are only but a shell of their former selves. The reason? Some months earlier, a tragic car accident claimed the life of their son Oliver and it was poor Maria’s decision to save her daughter instead of her little boy.
Living in anguish, we see how the horrific events have invaded their everyday life; Michael, determined to move forward, does his best to comfort his wife and focus on raising the one child they have left, the adorable Lucy (Sofia Rosinsky), but Maria is unable to come to terms with what happened to Oliver and the choices that she’s made. After trying to kill herself, Maria learns from their nanny, Piki (Suchitra Pillai-Malik), that there is a ritual and a remote temple hidden away that can help her with her grief. If she places the ashes of her son there, she can speak to him one last time. The only catch is that Maria can only communicate with Oliver through the temple door, and no matter what she hears, Piki tells her that she must not open the door under any circumstances. And of course, grief-stricken Maria opens the door, putting her and the rest of the family at risk, as they must contend with the evil forces who are none too pleased with her actions.
There are a lot of familiar elements to the story of The Other Side of the Door, especially if you’ve seen Pet Sematary, but co-writer/director Johannes Roberts uses the rich mythologies and mysticism in India to twist these ideas into something a bit unexpected, and I found that incredibly admirable and refreshing. Utilizing the city of Mumbai as the backdrop to The Other Side adds a ton to the project as well, from the production design to various story elements to the city’s energy adding another layer of frenetic unease that amplifies Maria’s own mania and grief process.
While Sisto practically disappears into the background throughout The Other Side of the Door (in all fairness, it does fit his character’s functions within Roberts’ story), Callies is left to do all the heavy lifting in the film and does a truly fantastic job of capturing the unexpectedness that comes along with the despair of losing someone that you love, especially in this case, when you’re the one who had to decide which child to save and which child to leave behind. The car crash scene is intensely emotional, and we see why Maria carries such a deep burden that she’s unable to move beyond. Callies wasn’t someone I really warmed up to on The Walking Dead, but I do love what she does with this role, particularly during an early scene in The Other Side when we see her anger manifesting itself in her relationship with Michael after she is incredulous that he could even fathom sleeping peacefully after such a horrific event. It’s a wonderfully subtle moment for both Callies and the movie, and it made me appreciate her even more.
Also, mad props to youngster Rosinsky (in her first feature film here), who ends up owning the third act of The Other Side of the Door. There’s not a lot I can really discuss about how her character evolves throughout the film that doesn’t give away spoilers, but I love the direction Lucy takes once The Other Side hits its final act.
Despite the fact that its final moments seem unnecessarily rushed in comparison to the rest of the film, The Other Side of the Door ended up being an enjoyable viewing experience due to Roberts’ ability to manipulate familiar tropes and give them a proper twist. Certainly a supernatural thriller that relies more on exploring the complexity of emotions and a darkly foreboding atmosphere than jump scares and gratuitous gore, The Other Side of the Door is a meritable effort from everyone involved and shows great promise from Roberts, who has definitely stepped up his game as a filmmaker since Storage 24.
Movie Score: 3/5