If lore is any indication, mankind has been desperately making deals with the devil since the beginning of time – and, in spite of the steep one-sidedness of the agreements’ contingencies, these deals persist. At least they do, in fact, wind up making for good stories.
At the Devil’s Door, originally titled Home, tells the stories of two young women and their ties to the netherworld. The film begins in the late 80s with Hannah (Ashley Rickards, MTV’s "Awkward") falling head over heels for some wannabe bad boy she just met (because of course she does). He talks her into meeting his Uncle Mike and playing a game with him for $500. Being young and in love, her brains are scrambled eggs, so Hannah agrees, and this solid decision-making leads her to her poor-man’s-James Dean’s creepy uncle, played by none other than Michael Masse (Lost Highway, Se7en) in a remote trailer that also veeeeery coincidentally happens to sit at a crossroads. They play the Shell Game, and after correctly guessing three times in a row, Uncle Mike tells her she’s been chosen and she can have the money if she walks down to the crossroads and says her name. She returns home, and after some disturbing events and terrifying paranormal experiences, she hangs herself in her bedroom.
Flash forward to the present day. Leigh (Catalina Sandino Moreno of "The Bridge;" "Paris, je t’aime") is a hard-working young real estate agent being asked to sell a family’s home in light of the father’s declining health. We soon find out that the family’s daughter ran off with a boyfriend and hasn’t returned to the home since it was put on the market. We also learn of the daughter’s troubled history, including, y’know, burning part of the home while she lived there. When Leigh starts to inspect the home, she runs into a girl she assumes is the runaway daughter. Once this happens again, she makes contact with the girl and tries to help her – which proves to be a fatal mistake. Because Leigh missed her darkly withdrawn sister Vera’s ("Glee’s" Naya Rivera) art opening, Vera becomes worried and eventually hears her sister suffered a heart attack at the home she was preparing to sell.
Investigating the home and her sister’s belongings, Vera is drawn along the sinister path lain before her. After visiting the home and all manner of shadowy weirdness, Vera returns to her loft, where she is attacked by an unseen force and thrown from a window. She awakens from a coma eight months later and – surprise! – is with child. Understandably freaked out, she demands a C-section and an adoption.
Flash forward again six more years into the future: a small girl watches catastrophic events on the television and her mother tells her she will have a guest later. Vera shows up to meet the young girl, tell her that she is her biological mother, and demand to know what she is.
Overall, At the Devil’s Door’s premise is pretty simple, combining elements of “devil’s child” films like Rosemary’s Baby or The Omen. Writer/director Nicholas McCarthy (The Pact) competently builds and sustains momentum by allowing the timeline to unfold arrhythmically and exploring details from multiple angles. All three female leads deliver solid, nuanced performances while maintaining believable chemistry throughout. Even Ava Acres (voices from Frozen, Happy Feet and Wreck It Ralph) embodies terror reminiscent of Harvey Stephens as Damien. The female-driven cast allows for a tight, palpable emotional balance between the obligations of blood ties and resilient individualism. In fact, the film’s feminine aspects also are probably its most interesting. Even though the demon is referred to as a “he” throughout the film, it’s an interesting flip that the child is a little girl, and though it could be argued that she is used as a vessel, Acres’ tense, terrific, surprisingly mature performance speaks for itself.