REVIEW: Never Open the Door
– By Allan Lear
Capgras Syndrome. It’s one of those fascinating neurological conditions that Oliver Sachs made a good living bringing to the attention of the lay populace. It’s not the one where you think your wife is an item of millinery, or the one where you wake up from a traumatic head injury with a newly-acquired Jamaican accent or a sudden gift for playing the bagpipes. It’s much better than that.
Capgras Syndrome is a delusional condition in which the sufferer believes that an important person in their lives – a spouse, a child, a parent – has been abstracted away from them and replaced by an exact doppelganger, complete with memories.
Yes, this is a real disease. Yes, real people have suffered, and do suffer, from it. And yes, it is as awesome as it sounds. Live your own Invasion of the Body Snatchers fantasy holiday! Like a special offer from Rekall Inc. All for the low, low price of phenomenal and specific brain damage, or possibly a tumour. No-one is sure.
(As an aside, Foreign Parts, a short story by Neil Gaiman, incorporates Capgras Syndrome and a round condemnation of the so-called medical community which, after all, has never checked that the spouse or relative has not been eerily replaced with an exact double…)
Capgras Syndrome is also more or less the basic premise behind Never Open the Door, a horror film created by co-writers Christopher Maltauro and Vito Trabucco in association with some truly terrible decision-making. Trabucco also directs, which places additional blame on his shoulders.
NOTD is a black-and-white shortish film clocking in at almost exactly an hour’s screen time. It stars Jessica Sonneborn, whom regular readers might vaguely remember as the confused and self-hating creative force behind The Haunting of Alice D. It also shares something else in common with that film, to wit: a cast of characters who all, without exception, suffer from a clinically severe case of shit-for-brains.
To be fair to Alice D, at least a large number of characters in that film are intended to be arseholes. I get the impression that wasn’t the case with Never Open the Door, since these are the people we’re supposed to be rooting for as they battle a perplexing supernatural occurrence that threatens to leave them all stabbed-up and imperfect.
As we open, our characters are all sat around a dining table, being dreadful. A smug bastard in a stupid jumper interrupts his wife’s announcement of her pregnancy in order to wank on about his career prospects. A woman who isn’t getting much action is called out for being a lesbian and has a cock waved in her face. The woman doesn’t even have the presence of mind to stab said cock with her fork. Grown men talk about imaginary sex they haven’t had like fifteen year old boys.
Like I say, if the object of the exercise is to make us wish all these people dead, then it works very well; but in that case, on whose side are we meant to be? The malevolent, unknowable entity that attacks them?
This spontaneous dickhead marathon is interrupted by the film’s only genuinely sympathetic character, a dead guy. He staggers in through the front door and expires with the words “never open the door”, thus namechecking the film but apparently failing to realise that he couldn’t deliver that warning without somebody having already disobeyed it.
Jessica Sonneborn’s character reacts in the only logical way one would when a heavily-murdered body with an enigmatic warning interrupts your port and cheese course: she goes for a shower without telling anyone. This conveniently sets the stage for confusion: a phone call is now received from a voice purporting to be Sonneborn’s, claiming that she was delayed by car trouble and has only just arrived, and could they please let her in at the front door?
Capgras Syndrome. An exact double of Sonneborn materialises, and nobody knows if she is real.
From here on out everything goes tits-up, and a sequence of bodysnatching, doppelgangery and daemonic possession puts the mockers on what was already a pretty dismal dinner party. Murdering occurs indiscriminately and in all directions, which is nice.
Well…it would be nice if it were done properly. Never Open the Door is obviously a low-budget production, and the effects are sometimes demonstrative of this, although the creature effects are pretty solid.
There is, however, one massive flaw in the film that nothing can overcome, and now we come to the terrible decision-making I referred to before. Despite apparently having two writers on the project, a decision was made at some point to allow the cast to improvise their parts.
As I have said before, improvising dialogue is all very well when you’re doing The Thick of It and you’ve got Peter Capaldi and Alex Macqueen running their mouths. Proper actors can inhabit their roles well enough to react convincingly to unexpected dialogue.
But NOTD doesn’t have proper actors. It has a loose affiliation of bumbling dorks. When such people are relied upon to improvise their dialogue, you’d better schedule plenty of retake time, because otherwise you end up with scenes where two actresses spend five minutes saying “Oh my god. Stop. Why are you being so weird? Oh my god. Stop it. You’re being weird. Why are you being weird? Stop. Oh my god.” over and over again (actual dialogue sample).
I’m not joking. These people are just atrocious at improv. About eighteen per cent of the film’s running time is taken up with people asking each other “what are you talking about?” They don’t even do it in a natural way; they sound stilted and uncomfortable, making it all too obvious that someone has wandered off-script and they are lost in a shifting no man’s land of invention and creativity that has left them mystified and afraid.
I mean, far be it from me to frown on ambition. If you have a burning passion to create art bursting its way out of you, then please, by all means, go and write. Make films. Paint. Act. Sculpt. Dance. I will love you for it.
But whatever you do, don’t make me sit through a film shot with people who clearly don’t know what the hell they’re doing or even want to be there. Find some people who share your vision and run with them. Otherwise you end up with Never Open the Door, a film which gives the distinct impression that the entire cast has been removed and replaced by a pack of useless, bungling amateurs.