Eight complete strangers sectioned off into four curiously matched pairs awaken in various rooms of an unfamiliar suburban house. None of them can recall how they may have gotten there, nor is there any apparent method of exit. For the foreseeable future, they’re trapped, and none of them are alone.
So describes the events of The Doors Between Us, a micro-indie film produced in Lakewood, Colorado, which held its one-night-only premiere on a single, exciting evening back in December. I had the opportunity to attend the premiere at the invitation of a colleague who happened to be in the film, and I arrived at the theater to find a bustling, enthusiastic crowd of attendees. As I often do, I went in knowing as little as possible about the movie itself; in this case, I hardly knew anything beyond the title and a few of the actors I had met beforehand.
What I ended up seeing was a movie that, although clearly on a tight budget, had a unique strain of passion and intent injected into nearly the entire 110-minute runtime. I had not met director Max Aguiar at the time of the premiere, but it wasn’t long before we became enthusiastically acquainted. In the months since that evening, Doors has made some impressive rounds throughout the smaller festival circuit, and it was originally set to return to a local theater for a week of midnight showings.
I probably don’t need to remind anyone that theaters nationwide began to close weeks before this plan ever came to fruition, but it’s managed to add an entirely new layer of ironic significance to the film, a strange tale centered heavily on how we as humans deal with confinement. Though produced and screened months before the world quickly became such a claustrophobic place, Doors has proven itself, first and foremost, to be a potent avenue for exploring the paranoia of isolation, an all-too recognizable experience these days.
The film opens with an extended shot of the house, the sole setting of this twisted tale. With the help of some atmospheric music, we immediately get the sense that things are about to go down within these walls. This sensation is immediately emphasized when we begin to meet our cast of characters. Among them is Jessica Marie Tambourine (Amanda Graeff), a valley girl who finds herself confined to the company of Cecily DeMarcos (Keltie Nylund), a bespectacled, no-nonsense, religious believer.
James (Waseem Aad) is a cross-eyed New Yorker who emerges from a deep sleep to the (un)godly sight of Betty (Katie Hansen), a chair-bound old soul with a bandage on her head, who repeatedly goes into incessant coughing fits. In another room we meet Charlie Magnitude (Alex Pace), a curious fellow with a haircut aptly described as a “Poodle combined with a Gorilla,” fated to interact with none other than Cory Blitz (Richard Willhelm), a man who defies description, except to say that he has gotten ahold of some highly effective, ivory-laced narcotics.
The only potential “straight” person comes in the form of Dean (Bill Collins), a mild-mannered man who fittingly has the misfortune (or perhaps privilege) of being stuck in a bathroom with a creature known only as “Pasquino” (Logan Diemert), a spiritually enigmatic white-faced being, ostensibly confined to the bathtub, and who sporadically affects a Gungan speech pattern.
The action cuts fluidly among the four pairs, every member of whom clearly channeling some form of highly-exaggerated archetype in the name of genuinely effective comedy. The voices and mannerisms on display are unilaterally impressive and amusing, making for a litany of laugh-out-loud moments. Sick Betty is the clear highlight for most of the film, but there was hardly a moment when I wasn’t cackling maniacally. It’s a candid (and rather enjoyably off-color) comedic sensibility that transcends ‘timing’ to reflect the senseless, unfettered wrath of the people onscreen.
Although every character reacts somewhat differently, they’re all understandably discontent with their newfound personal situations. The first act is heavily steeped heavily in anger; it presents a seemingly bleak outlook on our collective ability to handle unexpected tension, but it’s that same cynicism that lends the film an entirely new level of significance as it compares to the real world today.
If nothing else, the claustrophobia is palpable thanks in large part to the often invasive cinematography. Beyond that, however, the story slowly blooms into something pleasantly insightful about how we all have the innate ability to adapt. The very nature of being held hostage in this fashion dictates that the widespread anger of the characters simply has nowhere to go, and their shared transformation begins to take place. This hateful band of eight, no matter how initially vitriolic, all begin to see their opposites eye-to-eye. They start to get along with each other out of sheer necessity, only to find out that this was a much better attitude to have from the beginning.
It’s a legitimately satisfying journey in and of itself, but that’s only the first half of this tale. The implication that all four of these interactions have been occurring in the same house is confirmed when the previously locked doors begin to open. Dramatic events that I will not reveal have taken place within this time, and the coming together of the entire cast, in an admirably bold turn of events, effectively invalidates almost everything that had come before it.
Frankly, the way the third act of the film takes place is unsatisfying from a cinematic perspective. At first glance, it feels disingenuous to what had been built up for over an hour, and it leaves the entire finished product with an aura of uncertainty and inconsistency. That said, there’s an undeniable poetry to the arc that has taken place. The fact that, by and large, the characters don’t learn anything from what they’ve gone through is almost uncomfortably observant of human nature.
I think it’s fair to say that we’ve all gone through something that we should have learned from and ultimately came to regret. At a time like this, when even the very immediate future is unsettlingly nebulous, there’s value to gain from this cadre of thick-headed personalities. The real-life lessons that we’re all currently learning are ones that should not be forgotten, and seeing them all lead by negative example is a damn effective way of remembering this.
Though clearly not made with a pandemic in mind, Doors is turning out to be an unconventionally insightful specimen of midnight entertainment. The film’s somewhat excessive length works against it; the movie never becomes a total drag, but some sequences feel unmistakably prolonged. Still, that might just be the point.
The film is described as a “Midnight Comedy hidden inside the strangest book Stephen King never wrote,” and I can vouch for its effectiveness having now seen it twice. It’s a unique cinematic beast worth seeking out by whatever means available, and if it’s this enjoyable at home, you can only imagine how powerful it would be in a theater. The Doors Between Us is not currently available for public viewing, but everything from trailers to screenshots to reviews to live streaming updates can be found at the Janky Jank Productions Website. I’m very glad to have come upon this, and I’m confident in saying that you will be too.
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