“Directed by Aaron B. Koontz (Camera Obscura, Scare Package) who also co-wrote the script with Cameron Burns (Camera Obscura) and Keith Lansdale (“Creepshow”), THE PALE DOOR stars Devin Druid (“13 Reasons Why”), Zachary Knighton (“Happy Endings”), Noah Segan (Knives Out), Stan Shaw (Monster Squad), Pat Healy (Cheap Thrills), Bill Sage (We Are What We Are) and Melora Walters (Magnolia). The film is presented and executive produced by Joe R. Lansdale, the writer of Bubba Ho-Tep & Cold In July.
A horror mashup is a tough thing to pull off effectively, but when it works it is a truly enjoyable viewing experience. Be it horror comedies like Evil Dead II or Cable In The Woods, or Sci-Fi horror like the Alien films or John Carpenters The Thing. Then there is Western horror which is one of the rarest and most difficult mash-ups to pull off effectively. Films like Near Dark, Bone Tomahawk, and From Dusk Till Dawn are prime examples of effectively pulling off both genres to make an original film. In the case of The Pale Door from director Aaron B. Koontz, the idea is there and it is original but the execution is just doesn’t live up.
The film follows the Dalton brothers, Jake (Devin Druid) and his older brother Duncan (Zachary Knighton). The two lost their parents at a young age to bandits and have depended on each other ever since. Jake works in a local saloon and Duncan is the leader of a notorious gang of outlaws. I feel like this should have hit me as a viewer, but to be honest I never felt any strong bond with these two characters. They feel underdeveloped and never fully fleshed out. The same can be said with the various other members of the Dalton gang. There are so many characters in this gang and I never feel like I got a sense of who they are, which is a shame because they are all clearly gifted actors. The biggest problem that holds this film back is the underdeveloped characters combined with the pacing, which is very slow at the beginning of the film.
After a train heist gone wrong Duncan is wounded and the gang seeks refuge in a nearby small town brothel run by the mysterious Maria (Melora Walters). The Brothel is actually home to a coven of witches of which Maria reigns supreme. This is when the film really worked for me. The creature designs of the witches and the action when the horror begins felt like the moment the horror and western aspects really came together. Walters gives a great performance conveying a woman of mystery and power consumed by rage at the world of men. If the film had delved into this more I feel like it would have made for a more satisfying watch. Everything with the Witches is really interesting and makes for compelling scares and creature effects, it just needed more. Personally, I would have like to see more of how magic works and the properties of the witches’ power. It just feels like the film doesn’t know what it wants to be. It’s trying to be a western and a creature feature and unfortunately never really commits to either.
The Pale Door is by no means a bad film, it’s just not a particularly memorable one. I don’t know what is the most to blame but the main problem seems to be in the pacing of the story and underdeveloped characters. The script has got ideas that are never fully realized or achieved. None of the actors are outright bad, but no one gives a memorable performance other than Melora Walters. I would love to see this idea executed with a tighter script to see how different the final product would be. In particular with more focus on the witches and their background. That being said if you love crazy gun battles and good practical creature effects, by all means, check this film out.