Photo: ‘Doors’/Epic Pictures
A Story In Parts
Recent sci-fi release ‘Doors’ from directors Saman Kesh, Jeff Desom, and Dugan O’Neal and starring Josh Peck, Lina Esco, Wilson Bethel, and Kyp Malone is a creatively told story that impresses in some areas and disappoints in others. In ‘Doors’, hundreds of thousands of mystery, alien doors appear unannounced on Earth and it is up to the human-race to uncover the meaning and purpose of them before it is too late.
From the team behind the ‘V/H/S’ trilogy, ‘Doors’ structures its film in a similar way dividing itself into four narrative vignettes that all take place after the start of the door crisis. This creative structure is the biggest strength of the film but unfortunately also fuels the film’s greatest weaknesses.
Conceptually the film is very strong, the overarching idea of the doors and what they are is very fresh. Aesthetically the doors are very visually interesting — they loom large over our characters, usually cloaked in darkness. The doors pulsate and move as if they are fluid. To the credit of the filmmakers, their ability to make the doors look visually interesting and realistic on what I can only assume is a fairly small budget is a testament to the effort put into the film.
The filmmakers rarely show the doors fluffy illuminated or unobstructed by other elements. This technique of obstructing the view of the audience did sell the doors more than if we just saw them out in the open. The way the filmmakers attack the filming of the doors leaves enough to the imagination that our brains fill in the gaps. Without giving too much away, there is something done with text involving the door that I thought was a very interesting choice that I didn’t quite expect but ended up appreciating.
While on the subject of how things look, the cinematography of the films is quite strong. There are many wide-ranging, sweeping shots from cinematographers Todd Banhazl, John Schmidt, and Starr Whitesides that hold the film together. Their use of locations is also exceptionally strong — from the scenes on beaches with the wind wisping up seafoam to the scenes in the rustling forests, the film knows how to place its characters in locations that will bring an audience in. This attention to visual detail is not just limited to the outdoor locations however, the interior production design is also very detailed and purposeful which I appreciated.
I cannot expand on that more without delving too deep into spoilers. The costume design, specifically of the ‘Knockers’ is also visually interesting and is a credit to the designer’s ability to work on a budget. The film doesn’t just succeed visually, the sound design is also very impressive. First-time composer, John Beltrán, crafted a score that contains a lot of synths, bass, and tones, reminding me of a Christopher Nolan film score such as Tenet or Inception.
While that may at first come off as derivative, I felt like the film justified it. The editors do some clever things with sound effects and their implications. To work around their budget, the sound designers and editors utilized sound effects to offer the implication of an object or vehicle rather than just showing it. At first, this felt like a bit of a work-around, but after adjusting it began to feel very seamless. The sound design around the doors was also very unique and something I will remember.
Segmented Story Telling
I praise any and all filmmakers who decide to take creative risks in their storytelling, ‘Doors’ deserves that same praise. Structuring a film into segmented vignettes is a difficult challenge that has a long history of both successes and failures. When it is done well, such as Quentin Tarantino’s ‘Pulp Fiction’, they can feel innovative and fresh to audiences. Structurally, I feel like the film mostly works — each segment feels well-paced and fits with the overall tone of the film, except for the last one.
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The final segment of the film is the shortest and filmed in the Screen-Life medium, when a film is shot as if it was all on a laptop screen, in the vein of Aneesh Chaganty’s ‘Searching’ or the horror franchise, ‘Unfriended’. While I appreciated the attempt at creativity, the final segment feels tonally out of place and too quick to get much out of. The last segment felt too much like an afterthought whereas the first three felt like there was more care given to the pacing.
The first three sequences all are individually interesting ideas and take on what would be happening in this world of appearing doorways. The second segment, in particular, is mind-bending and, for lack of a better word, very trippy. Each sequence has its own cast of characters that vary in effectiveness. There is a clear effort at the characterization of all characters which I appreciated but the film struggles to craft compelling arcs around the characters. I attributed this issue to the runtime of the film — the film comes in at around an hour and twenty-one minutes long which when split into about 4 sections does not leave a lot of time to flesh out your characters, especially when they are limited to their own stories.
I found that with a lot of the character arcs that the set-up was effective and like where we ended up, however, the journey to get there was too quick and felt unearned. What could’ve been real moments of satisfaction became moments where I was confused as to how we had gotten to this point emotionally. Giving more time to let the characters and arcs breathe greatly would have aided the film’s storytelling and allowed audiences to form more of an attachment to these characters. Unfortunately, in its current form, the characters feel like people who just come and go.
‘Doors’ – Show Don’t Tell
The film’s other major weakness is how it delivers exposition to the audience. The filmmakers have created a somewhat abstract concept for their film and the doors and it is clear that they want to make sure they are articulating the story they are intending to tell. With any film there is a need for exposition, finding a way to deliver it creatively is the challenge. ‘Doors’ at first does very well with this challenge — in a lot of ways the first segment of the film is exactly how you should attack exposition, showing it to the audience visually rather than explaining it to them through the dialogue. Early on in the film, there is a podcaster talking about the global door event and while that is dialogue, I still thought it was a creative delivery of needed information.
The problem is the film keeps finding ways to deliver the exposition almost as if the filmmakers were worried the audience wouldn’t get it. After giving exposition visually and through the podcaster the film doubles down with spoken, dialogue exposition between characters and through superimposed text that all contain the same information. After a few times, this repetition of the same information becomes tiresome and I think cutting some of that and trusting their audiences could have gone a long way for the filmmakers. The film likes to keep some elements ambiguous which I appreciated but at the same time over-explains other elements which felt like a very confusing juxtaposition.
The performances in the film are generally good. Josh Peck, of hit Nickelodeon show ‘Drake & Josh’ who also starred opposite Chris Hemsworth in the 2012 reboot of the 80s classic, ‘Red Dawn’, receives top billing even though only having roughly about twenty-minutes of screen-time throughout the film. Peck does make the most of his time on screen, in one sequence having to flex his emotional range and landing it for the most part. Another standout was Kyp Malone, who appeared in Ilana Glazer and Abbi Jacobson’s Comedy Central show, ‘Broad City’. Malone offers a rather unexpectedly sweet performance that I appreciated.
‘Doors’ is a creative and innovative film that makes reach too far for its budget and runtime. While there are a lot of really exceptional ideas in place and strong visuals, the script feels like it rushes through the story too quickly and there is not enough time to get invested in each segment of the film. As previously stated, filmmakers should always be praised for taking creative risks and on that merit alone I feel the film is worth the watch to form your own opinion. For me, the story elements fell too flat for me to want to revisit it even though the overall concept was engaging. I would love to see what a limited series or another feature film with a singular narrative could do with this world when given more time to explore all of its nuances but until then I have to say ‘Doors’ is an overall mixed-bag.
Where To Watch
Actors: Josh Peck, Lina Esco, Wilson Bethel, and Kyp Malone
Directors: Saman Kesh, Jeff Desom, and Dugan O’Neal
Writers: Chris White, Saman Kesh, Jeff Desom, Ed Hobbs, Dugan O’Neal
Producers: Chris White, Patrick Ewald, Kimberly Stuckwisch | Director of Photography: Todd Banhazl, John Schmidt, Starr Whitesides | Composer: John Beltrán
By Sean Aversa
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Sean Aversa is a writer for Hollywood Insider, writing film reviews and features. Knowing from a very early age his passion for the big screen, Sean quickly gravitated towards film writing. He is excited for the opportunity to write about films and filmmakers that share his passion for cinematic storytelling. His favorite films to watch, discuss, and write about are those that are striving to find creative and innovative ways to tell stories.