So, this movie wasn’t as horribly racist as it could have been. It feels a bit ridiculous that this is a thing that’s said, either as a compliment or a statement of fact, but here we are. Despite having its white, American protagonist dealing with Indian superstition and ghost stories, The Other Side of the Door avoids the deeper pratfalls that some of its fellows (I’m looking at you, The Forest) this year have fallen into concerning racial stereotypes and producing the nonwhite “other” as the strange, malevolent force that must be battled and that eventually the white people are infected by and succumb to. At its heart, The Other Side of the Door wants to be a meditation on the devouring power of grief and the lengths people will go to in order to try and come to terms with said grief – or avoid it entirely, to the point of extreme, uneasy measures.
An attempt is made, to be sure, but the film falters in too many places for the story to ever find its footing. The pacing is confusing, especially in the beginning, and it feels like several establishing scenes were cut from the narrative that should have been kept in. Aside from the lead, none of the other characters have much of an arch or enough screen presence to make me remember their names. They exist to further the narrative and not much else. The notable exception is a wonderful, subdued performance by Suchitra Pillai, who was criminally underutilized. In all honesty, Mrs. Pillai was the best thing about this movie – despite having about ten minutes of screen time. Her character arc was subtle and tragic, and had more emotional resonance than any of the conflict that drives the main characters that the audience is supposed to care about.
The cinematography has some moments of brilliance, but The Other Side of the Door is a confused, disjointed mess. It desperately wants to say something about the pull of grief in the wake of tragedy and sets up the platform to do so, but falters once it actually gets to that point. A tragedy occurs. The characters are sad. And…that’s about it. That’s the narrative. Setting the story in India could have made for some interesting dialog about the cultural conventions of grief and mourning, but those conversations just never happen. To its credit – I really can’t believe I’m saying this – the film isn’t as racist as it could have been. Though the supernatural forces are clearly racially Other, the malevolence is related more to grief in general than any culturally specific evil. Or at least that’s the attempt. Still, there is a great deal of cultural appropriation and the prioritization of white grief and white stories, over the narratives of characters like Piki, who’s own loss is brushed aside once its narrative purpose has been served.
This story has been done before. It’s been done much better. I can provide examples. Go watch something else.