There is a door in the woods. It stands unaided and unaccompanied by any other structure. Suspended without reason. The purpose of the door is unclear. It is locked. It is chained. It bears scorch marks from a long ago fire. And it is alone. This is the door in the woods. And soon it will find a new home…
...The discovery of this door is the simple yet effective turning point in writer-director Billy Chase Goforth’s Door in the Woods, a haunting and compelling film that draws the viewer in with a spellbinding pull similar to that of the eponymous door on the unsuspecting Eden family. It’s a straightforward film that doesn’t deviate from an expected linear path and yet it’s impossible to look away from, a testament to the creative forces behind the door.
Evelyn (Jennifer Pierce Mathus) and Redd (David Rees Snell) Eden are getting their lives in order. They’ve moved into a cozy new house and Redd has found steady work for his construction company at a local school for children with special learning needs, where their son Kane (John-Michael Fisher) is able to attend at a discounted tuition. Evelyn’s finally finished unpacking and it looks as though the time might be right for her to try her hand at the online business she’s wanted to run. While things might not be great for Kane at school, on the whole, things are on the up-and-up. That is until the family takes a hike in the woods one Saturday and stumbles upon a door standing unaided, with nothing in front or behind it, scuffed and silent. Since they’re in need of a door for the hall closet, the Edens take it home, fix it up with a little red paint and elbow grease, and voila. But the Edens have made a grave mistake, and they’ll soon discover that this door is a gateway for something ancient and sinister. Something that, once it has what it wants, will never let it go…
Door in the Woods is a chilling, eerie film that relies on atmosphere as its primary tool for eliciting dread from the audience, to great effect. There’s a thick sense of dreariness that hangs over the film, even during the many daytime shots, that sombers the mood without slowing the pace of the story. It’s as if the whole film is cast in that canopy-like semi-darkness that can be found only deep in the forest, off the prescribed trail. It’s an apt tone to evoke given the themes and main set pieces of the film. In this sense, there is also a strange magnetism to the film, and though we might expect each plot turn and character choice, we must keep going, much in the way that human beings are drawn to the woods, where danger and dark things lurk.
This specific kind of fear crafted by Goforth’s writing, and brought to life so expertly by the cast and steady camerawork, is reminiscent of Kubrick’s work in The Shining. The jump scares are few and far between; the horror relies on a slow, mounting sense of terror that keys to a fever pitch before relenting and allowing the viewer to breathe a breath they didn’t realize they were holding. This is no easy feat to accomplish, but Goforth is a patient filmmaker and keeps a firm hand on the story, never letting the mood slip from his intended vibe.
The cast is game and able, with Pierce Mathus in particular softening and bringing an aura of grounded believability to a character who could easily have become grating in lesser hands. Katherine Forbes as the gruff local hermit dispensing exposition and warnings and CJ Jones (Castle Rock) as deaf medium Uriah also stand out as sources of knowledge and connection to the dark world beyond the veil that threatens the delicate harmony of the Eden’s life in their new home. Uriah in particular is woven expertly into the final act of the film, and Jones plays his scenes with a practiced balance between brevity and shamanistic authority.
It all leads to a cathartic, if haunting ending that evokes a sort of literary horror similar to The Little Stranger or even Mark Z. Danielewski’s House of Leaves. The creepy, gut-punch final shot wraps up an unsettling story while leaving the viewer to ponder a disturbing question as the end credits trickle by. It’s a fitting query to end such an expressive, grounded film, which is exactly what Goforth has produced. Door in the Woods capitalizes on every asset it has with a budget-be-damned attitude and commitment to fashioning an atmospheric, gripping horror film. Come take a peek behind the door and see for yourself.
Door in the Woods is available on VOD/DVD from Wild Eye Releasing October 29.
By Craig Ranallo