Two priests investigate a miracle at a Magdalene Laundry in 1960 Ireland and meet something evil in a beautifully made but ultimately messy film.
This review of The Devil’s Doorway is a second opinion. You can check out an alternate perspective by clicking these words.
I feel like I should apologise here: The Devil’s Doorway is the one film I saw at Mayhem Film Festival that I really did not like. I went in expecting to admire it, as I’d heard great things, and Ireland’s first big horror film by a female director (Aislinn Clarke) is to be applauded, after all. But I was firmly turned off the film by about halfway through, and that feeling only grew as it went on from there. I’ll tell you what The Devil’s Doorway is about, and some positive points, but then I’m afraid explaining my problems with it will raise spoilers, so I’ll cover your eyes for the rest of the review…
The Devil’s Doorway is set in a Magdalene Laundry in Ireland in 1960, where two priests (Lalor Roddy and Ciaran Flynn) have been sent to investigate a reported “miracle” (a statue of the Virgin Mary weeping blood). They meet hostility from the nuns and especially the Mother Superior (the remarkable Helena Bereen), but persist, and introduce themselves to the residents. They find evil residing at the Laundry, which I think is intended as analogous to the real Magdalene Laundries themselves being homes to unsavoury people; and indeed the very concept of such places is downright distasteful.
There are a number of positive points about The Devil’s Doorway: the sublime acting, for example; the sense of time and place; the quality of cinematography with 16mm film authentic to the period. These were all covered in Morgan’s Grimmfest review. The problems I had with the film related to both the story and the style: in a number of ways, the film didn’t know what it was trying to be; and where the purpose was clear, it was delivered in a very heavy-handed way… So here it comes, with some spoilers:
- Format: if it’s a found-footage, there shouldn’t be a soundtrack added, and there should be something that says where/how the footage was found; if it is a mock documentary (like Levinson’s The Bay), there should be some narrative or other editorial making the conclusion clear.
- Muddled explanation: so was the great evil the death of the babies (and were the statues crying blood because the babies wanted to be discovered, like one of the priests speculated), or was it Satanism?
- Absence of any subtlety: the subject of the Magdalene Laundries should not have been tackled in such a heavy-handed way, with loud noises, crashing statues, etc.
- The ending: did “Welcome home, Thomas” imply that the whole thing had been set up to get the priest there, like a variation on The Wicker Man? If so, why?
Perhaps you’ll like the film well enough – like Morgan – that these negative points won’t touch you. The Devil’s Doorway is worth watching for sure, but those issues really got in the way for me. If you want to give it a try, it’s available to rent now on Amazon Video.