Directed by Johannes Roberts.
Starring Sarah Wayne Callies, Jeremy Sisto, Sofia Rosinsky and Suchitra Pillai-Malik.
A desperate, grieving mother seeks closure through a forbidden ancient Indian ritual. When her son’s spirit inadvertently returns to the world of the living, strange and terrible things begin to happen.
When American ex-pats Maria (Sarah Wayne Callies, The Walking Dead) and Michael (Jeremy Sisto, Wicked City) decide to start a family in Mumbai, India, they have no idea that along with the greatest adventure of their lives they are signing up for untold horrors that will destroy them both. Mumbai is ideal for Michael’s antique-sourcing business, and Maria falls in love with the sights, sounds, smells, and climate of India’s most bustling city. Soon they have two children, Oliver and Lucy (Sofia Rosinsky), and everything is perfect – for a little while.
After Oliver dies in a horrific accident (in what is definitely the strongest scene in the film), Maria struggles with untold grief, guilt, and shame, lashing out at her family in terrible ways. Her wizened Indian housekeeper, Piki (Suchitra Pillai-Malik, 24), who once lost a child herself, suggests that Maria should visit the abandoned temple of Piki’s old village, in order to talk to her son one last time and tell him goodbye. There, rumour and superstitious folklore has it, the worlds of the living and the dead are closer than anywhere else. Maria has to spread the ashes of her son on the steps of the temple, close the door behind her and wait for her son’s spirit to talk to her from beyond the door. And whatever he says, no matter how hard he pleads, Maria is warned not to open the door, under pain of disastrous consequences.
Sounds simple enough; like a phone call with the dead, only through a door. But of course, as with any horror movie where the main character is warned not to do something, Maria goes and does the one thing she’s told not to do.
Soon, her house appears to be haunted with the presence of her son, and at first Maria is elated. However Oliver’s innocent requests for bedtime stories and playtime with his sister become increasingly creepy and violent as the days go by. Not only that, but some mysterious Aghori tribesmen, whose traditional worship of the Hindu god Shiva includes rituals where they cover themselves in the ashes of the dead, begin to lurk around Maria’s house and follow her around Mumbai. Convinced now that what she did was wrong, Maria tries to lay her son’s spirit to rest – but as he becomes stronger and more violent, it becomes clear that it’ll take a lot more than a simple talking-to to set things right with the world of the dead.
Shot entirely on location in India and using actual existing folklore such as the traditions of the Aghori tribe and the abandoned village of Bhangarh (where for some reason it’s illegal to enter between sundown and sunrise), The Other Side Of The Door is a supernatural cautionary tale set against a vibrant, exotic backdrop. The concept and the family’s story is interesting, and Sarah Wayne Callies’ touching performance as grieving mother Maria carries it as far as it can go… which, sadly, is not very far. The film is fraught with cheap jump scares which may make the faint-hearted jump, but apart from that it is rather hollow, not exploring any of the story strands to their full potential. If anything, it is a classic example of cultural appropriation, featuring a foreign culture through the eyes of two white outsiders, and depicting it as something so bizarre and incomprehensible that it must be scary. Piki is probably the only Indian character to be given any lines, and she ends up paying for the dumb white lady’s mistakes even though she was the one who gave her the ritual and the warning that came with it.
Ultimately, none of the scary bits stand out enough to make it a good scary movie, nor is the story element strong enough to make it a good film. And as it is rather clear that the writers do not understand the parts of Indian culture they decided to use, glorifying exactly the wrong things and never stopping to ask whether that’s in any way inappropriate, the experience of watching The Other Side Of The Door becomes an exercise in uncomfortable viewing.