Rampant stupidity and cheap jolts are the key ingredients of this old-fashioned fright flick, which is distinguished solely by its Indian setting. “The Other Side of the Door” basically employs one of the hoariest of horror clichés: the notion that it’s not smart to invite the dead back into your life. And it doesn’t deal with it with much imagination.
The script by Ernest Riera and director Johannes Roberts centers on American Maria (Sarah Wayne Callies) who settles with her husband Michael (Jeremy Sisto), an antiques dealer, in Mumbai after they enjoy an idyllic vacation there. All seems well until a terrible auto accident six years later, when Maria’s car crashes into a river and—in what’s easily the film’s most effective sequence—she’s able to save her daughter Lucy (Sofia Rosinsky) but can’t extract her son Oliver (Logan Creran) from the submerged vehicle. She blames herself for the boy’s death, and in her grief even tries to commit suicide.
That’s when their housekeeper Piki (Suchitrea Pillai) intervenes. She lost a daughter years before, and knows of a secluded Hindu temple where one can actually converse with a departed loved one to bring closure. The process requires disinterring the body of the deceased, burning it atop a funeral pyre, and then taking the ashes to be scattered at the temple. The spirit would then come to the inner courtyard behind the temple’s locked door and one could converse briefly with it to say final goodbyes; but it was forbidden to open the door.
Maria goes through the ritual and is able to speak to Oliver one last time. But of course she breaks the ban on opening the door, and her disobedience has the predictable dire consequences. Soon Oliver’s spirit has come home, but it’s now malignant, acting like a demanding poltergeist—forcing Maria to read “The Jungle Book” to it before bedtime, of example—and eventually threatening everyone in the household. Piki tries desperately to rectify the unhappy situation, but to no avail. Meanwhile a group of painted Hindu holy men, who supposedly consume the charred remains of those cremated for the temple ritual, show up repeatedly to chant some babble and carry the spirit back to the underworld where it belongs.
The Indian trappings—especially in terms of production designer David Bryan’s fashioning of the family home and garden, dressed nicely by set decorator Frances Cooper—add a bit of color to what is basically a drably predictable story, and Maxime Alexandre’s cinematography gives many scenes an appropriately dreamlike aura. But the picture couldn’t be called culturally sensitive, and many of the “local” elements come across as more than a little crass. So is Roberts’ dependence on sudden shock moments, accentuated as usual by a score (from Joseph Bishara) that, despite the setting, is utterly generic.
As for the cast, only Callies and Rosinsky stand out, the former for the conviction she expends on the thin material she has to work with, and the latter because she seems mostly at sea. Pillai is essentially stone-faced, and Sisto disappears for long stretches (Michael supposedly off on business trips), only to reemerge at the close to little effect.
The conclusion, incidentally, seems designed to set things up for a possible sequel. But it’s fairly certain that “The Other Side of the Door,” unlike Oliver, is one stiff that won’t be making a return appearance.