Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (October 1, 2020)
Genres collide via 2020’s The Pale Door. With this effort, we get a mix of horror and Western.
When the Dalton gang attempts a train robbery, it doesn’t go as planned. This leaves leader Duncan Dalton (Zachary Knighton) severely wounded.
The crew seeks aid in a local town that appears largely deserted, but to their surprise, they find themselves welcomed by the caring inhabitants of a brothel. However, it turns out these women lead a coven of witches, and they have their own plans for the outlaws.
That’s what we call a “big plot twist”. Indeed, the movie offers such a curveball that I felt tempted to leave it out of my synopsis.
However, the “bank robbers vs. witches” theme exists as a selling point for the movie, so it can’t be called a true spoiler. When the promo material makes this story point obvious, I think it’s fair game.
This quirky narrative choice ends up as the most interesting aspect of Door. Unfortunately, the movie itself can’t live up to the nutty potential of its concept.
For the film’s first 40 minutes or so, Door plays as a standard Western, and not an especially interesting one at that. We meet the colorful band of characters and develop a semblance of a plot before the outlaws encounter a surprise onboard the train about 25 minutes into the tale.
This first act with the Dalton gang tends to feel stale and dull. All the characters seem cliché and perfunctory, and nothing the story adds expands them in an interesting way.
The discovery on the train threatens to enliven matters, as it brings a sense of ominous mystery to the movie. From there, as we head to the brothel, Pale threatens to develop into something more intriguing.
And it does for a brief period, mainly related to the women of the brothel. We get a moderately compelling take on their situation that offers a brief spurt of momentum.
Alas, it doesn’t last long, as the rest of the film seems stuck in neutral. Door alternates lackluster stabs at horror with dull character drama, and these elements fail to connect.
It doesn’t help that Door comes with “protagonists” who seem like fairly awful people. Sure, the film attempts to make the bandits seem noble, but it fails. They rob and kill – while they may care for each other, it seems tough for the audience to worry about them since they show such disdain for the lives of strangers.
On the other hand, Door gives us good reason to feel sympathy for the witches, as they came to their circumstance via true tragedy. When we see insights into their pasts, we learn that they suffered true injustice.
Yet Door appears to want us to feel bad for the Dalton gang and dislike the witches. Unless the movie comes with some ironic social commentary I missed, this seems like a bad choice and it doesn’t work. When the outlaws suffer, we don’t encounter any sense of loss or sadness because they’re bad people.
The filmmakers seem infatuated with long, dull scenes in which the Dalton gang members wax poetic about their love for each other and whatnot. This seems odd for a story of this sort, and it leaves the flick with bizarre pretensions of artistic greatness.
Face it: people watch a movie like this for some action and terror. No one wants to watch bandits mope about their lives.
It doesn’t help that Door feels slow and muddled most of the time. It lacks coherence and positive momentum, so we find ourselves with pacing that never becomes consistent and a story that simply fails to find its way.
Somewhere buried in this mess, the potential for a good movie exists. Unfortunately, Door fails to make use of its positives.