Review by Sean Boelman
Filmmaker Aaron B. Koontz has been one to watch, having made two somewhat silly but also very fun B-movie horror flicks. However, in his attempt to do something more self-serious and ambitious, the horror-Western The Pale Door, he falls short in delivering sufficient scares or atmosphere to satisfy.
The movie tells the story of a gang of bandits who, after a botched robbery, take refuge in what initially seems to be a ghost town, only to realize that it is inhabited by a coven of witches. This setup of bad versus worse is nothing new for the Western genre, and the ritualistic elements of the narrative are lacking in any sense of originality or flair.
Many of the film’s issues can be boiled down to the script. The pacing here is all over the place. For much of the first half of the movie, it’s an extremely slow burn, with very little suspense to be found. When the proverbial s**t hits the fan, the film starts to scramble to cram all of this action into such a short period of time, resulting in a feeling that nothing is truly of consequence.
There are some messages in the movie about purity of heart and sacrifice, but ultimately, the film’s ideas are a blend of common themes from the Western and supernatural horror genres. Nothing that is said here hasn’t been said before, and much better. And the commentary on punishment and retribution is even more generic and underwhelming.
Perhaps most frustrating, though, is that the character development is sorely lacking. The group of bandits is too large in number for them to all be developed equally, but one can’t even describe them as archetypal — they’re just flat. There’s very little depth to any but one or two of the characters, causing them to become almost indistinguishable at times.
Apart from a solid but underused performance from Melora Walters, the cast isn’t particularly impressive. And given the list of rather talented character actors that make up the ensemble, like Pat Healy, Noah Segan, and Jeremy King, it’s disappointing that they aren’t given much to do other than run around helplessly.
Visually, Koontz’s movie is way too dark, even difficult to see at times, but if it weren’t for the dimness, there are some interesting things happening. There are a few scenes with some disturbing imagery, and the creature effects look really solid. The periodization through the production design is effective as well.
Unfortunately, The Pale Door simply isn’t an effective blend of its genres. With one portion that is grudgingly slow and another that is exhaustingly rushed, it’s hard to enjoy this straight-faced misfire from Aaron B. Koontz.
The Pale Door hits VOD on August 21.