Not to make this review all about me, dear Reader, but give me a Western and some witches and I am on board. The automatic appeal of The Pale Door is that it strikes as arresting and refreshing. If you’ve seen the poster art for the film floating around, no doubt you’ve felt the pull of this film. The Pale Door is delightfully unfamiliar and boldly unique. I can’t think of the last time I watched a film like this.
The Pale Door is directed by Aaron B. Koontz (who’s also responsible for Shudder’s Scare Package, which is just fantastic) and written by Koontz along with Cameron Burns and Keith Lansdale. The film stars Devin Druid (13 Reasons Why), Zachary Knighton, Bill Sage, Pat Healy, Natasha Bassett, and Noah Segan, with Stan Shaw and Melora Walters.
After a train robbery goes south, a band of outlaws take shelter in an uninhabited ghost town. Their leader is wounded and the gang is running out of options when they discover a welcoming brothel, the only source of life in the town. A bad night takes a turn for the worse as the beautiful women of the brothel are revealed to be a coven of witches with sinister plans for the unsuspecting outlaws.
It’s clear that The Pale Door is out to have a good time and it’s a real joy to be along for the ride. The entire film is injected with wonderful humor that keeps the story bouncing pleasantly along but don’t mistake The Pale Door for a horror-comedy. The film has an excellent atmosphere of eeriness combined with some utterly phenomenal horror visuals. The humor of it is almost deceiving, it only takes an instant for a well-placed scare to jerk you out of your comfort zone.
Narratively, The Pale Door is doing some really interesting things with history and lore. The pathway from witch trials era Early America to this wicked coven in the Wild West is a path rarely explored. Is it a bit of a stretch to combine the two time periods? Sure, but it’s fun and it allows for a truly unique origin story of this coven of witches. And we’re so glad these ladies are here! The visual effects and “creature” design of the she-devils is damn good! An absolute delight for any lover of practical effects.
As a fan of Westerns, it’s disheartening to see how underutilized the genre is in modern filmmaking. There are plenty of reasons for this but, all the same, the Western has a lot to give. It’s exciting to see the trappings of a good ole-fashioned Western being applied in such a fun way to a horror film. It’s innovative and, therefore, an interesting piece by default. Beyond that, it’s just plain fun!
Even though I’m a big fan of what The Pale Door is doing, there is one fatal flaw in the film. I need so much more. Within The Pale Door, you’ve got this fantastic story of these two brothers. Siblings that survive an early trauma and dedicate their lives to caring for the other. It’s the emotional center of the film, but these scenes pass by too quickly in the interest of getting to the ooey-gooey, witchy goodness. Understandable, but still!
Speaking of witches, this critic needs more of the coven! The viewer gets a small taste of the origins of the coven and a very basic understanding of the rituals they operate on. It’s frustrating to be shown such a multi-faceted squad of villainesses and only scratch the surface. Having so much of the coven’s motivation and lore shrouded in mystery has the unintended effect of lowering the stakes and cheapening the action. It’s obvious that a lot of creativity and thought went into these witches, share some of that with your eager audience.
Likewise, other character traits and plot points in the film tended to be picked up or briefly mentioned and put back down. It’s an annoying flaw made infuriating by the fact that these characters are so good that the viewer actually wants the deeper exploration. The Pale Door is so easy to adore, so give us more of the good stuff!
The Pale Door is a great time. An extremely unique take on two rich genres, and the result is so, so sweet. It’s an imperfect film, but never lacking in fun and clearly created out of pure love of the Western and of horror. Aaron B. Koontz is a talent to watch, for sure.
The Pale Door arrives in theaters, On Demand, and digitally on August 21, 2020.
The Pale Door
The Pale Door is a great time! An extremely unique take on two rich genres, and the result is so, so sweet. It’s an imperfect film, but never lacking in fun and clearly created out of pure love of the Western and of horror. Aaron B. Koontz is a talent to watch, for sure.
Caitlin is a sweater enthusiast, film critic, and lean, mean writing machine based in Austin, TX. Her love of film began with being shown Rosemary’s Baby at a particularly impressionable age and she’s been hooked ever since. She loves a good bourbon and hates people who talk in movies. Caitlin has been writing since 2014 and you can find her work on Film Inquiry, The Financial Diet, Nightmarish Conjurings, and many others. Follow her on Twitter at @CaitDoes.