Doors is one of those high concept science fiction films that is overflowing with great ideas. One just wishes the filmmakers had the same confidence in the audience as they did in their own vision.
Told in four distinct segments and divided amongst three directors (Jeff Desom, Saman Kesh, and Dugan O’Neal), this anthology film aims for a different approach to the classic alien invasion trope. It is a film that attempts to place one foot in the disorientating shoes of extraterrestrial encounters, while simultaneous raising questions about society’s need to change. Filled with interesting visuals, it’s as if we’ve been invited to a cool show-and-tell session where the presenter feels compelled to repeatedly over-explain what they have just shown.
The constant need to hold the viewer’s hand throughout is one of several hinderances to an otherwise intriguing film. The four vignettes revolve around the central premise that society is turned upside down by the appearance of millions of alien “doors” around the globe. No one is quite sure what the sentient doors want or what their purpose is, but their impact is immediate. Within a week, millions of people go missing and some of those who remain begin acting strangely.
Each individual segment of the film is designed to show different periods in what we assume to be an alien invasion. In the opening story “Lockdown”, director Jeff Desom recounts the day the alien doors arrived from the perspective of four high school students who are in the midst of an exam when their school suddenly goes into lockdown. When their teacher steps out of the room for a minute, never to return, the teens are left to figure what is going on as they hear the sound of jets racing by overhead. Desom creates plenty of tension as his central character Ash (Kathy Khanh Nguyen) must navigate both the complexities of adolescence—specifically gender identity and young love—and the allure of the door. While there is some unnecessary exposition, Desom utilizes the film’s excellent sound design to maximum effect.
The wonderful use of sound continues in Saman Kesh’s “Knockers”, arguably the most ambitious and frustrating tale in the anthology. Set a week after the sentient doors arrived, Kesh’s film focuses on a group of civilian volunteers known as Knockers, which include Becky (Lina Esco) and Vince (Josh Peck), who are tasked with going through the alien doors to investigate what is on the other side. Given only twelve minutes to get in and out, the Knockers find themselves in a realm that will challenge their mental state by tapping into their deepest fears and desires.
While a visually strong segment—the image of a space helmet filling with flower petals will stick with you—Kesh’s episode is a perfect example of a lack of trust in the viewer’s intelligence. The film opens with a radio host named Martin Midnight (David Hemphill) filling the viewer in on all they need to know to dive into the story. However, a few minutes later, Kesh hinders the pacing by reiterating on the screen everything that Midnight and the other characters have already told us. This annoying stylistic choice only serves to emphasize how uneven the segment is, which is a shame since there is so much promise on display here.
The best example of a vision fully realized is Dugan O’Neal’s “LamaJ”, which explores a reclusive scientist named Jamal (TV on the Radio’s Kyp Malone)—a man who finds a way to communicate with the alien beings. A simple but effective tale, this part of the film provides the most answers without ever feeling forced. O’Neal provides just enough information about both the characters and the aliens to make the sense of humanity in the film ring true. It is a work that should have been the closing segment of the film rather than Kesh’s unformed, and frankly less interesting, episode “Interstitials.” O’Neal’s film also inadvertently highlights why the overall concept for Doors would have worked better as a mini-series.
By attempting to cram so much information into a brisk running time, Doors never quite gets to the heart of the overall story it is trying to tell. As if sucked up into a tornado of good ideas, the segments feel just out of reach of the larger picture it is trying to connect with. If given the ability to explore its characters and themes in a longer more serialized format, Doors could have been a truly captivating work. There is plenty here that is worthy of unpacking and exploring further. Unfortunately, one needs to remove the safety locks to fully let the potential knocking at the door in.
Doors arrives on VOD on March 23.