Westerns and witches should be a slam dunk for a movie mashup. The millinery alone is an exciting prospect, and that is just the hats! The Pale Door certainly starts out with some promise, but its lack of inertia and confusing allegiances stifle any potential for excitement.
After watching their parents die in a late night attack, brothers Jake and Duncan (Devin Druid and Zachary Knighton) have gone their separate ways. Jake has gone straight and narrow and sweeps up the local saloon, saving his money for a rainy day. Duncan has founded the Dalton gang, and spends his money on women, booze, and gambling. When the two meet at the saloon, Jake ends up getting invited to join the gang for one night as a lookout for their next train heist.
The heist does not go as planned, and rather than gold and riches they are left with an injured Duncan and a young woman in a trunk. Everyone who might have been able to tell them why Pearl (Natasha Bassett) was in the trunk is dead, and she swears her home is nearby and there is a doctor in that town who can heal Duncan. Ignoring the ominous crows and unusual location of the town, they head out for help.
The town is entirely populated by women. Beautiful, erotic women, and Maria (Melora Walters) is the leader of them all. The men in the gang quickly fall prey to the siren’s song of the town while Jake does his best to resist. Things go sour quickly and the men are left in a standoff with the village’s witches.
This standoff ends all momentum in the plot, and zaps the energy out of the film entirely. Logistically it makes sense for the men to regroup and plan their escape, but the unnecessary exposition and distracting outpouring of emotions feels like a substitution for knowing how to keep the energy high. Afterall, there is a gang of outlaws surrounded by a coven of witches. How could this possibly be boring?
There is a certain joy in seeing witches as the evil, demonic monsters that they once were. This magical town is like a wicked Brigadoon and their alchemy and blood magic sure feels like a welcome throwback to the fear witches once drove into the heart of weak men. But, this is not a feminist call to arms like recent reassessments of witches living deliciously and carving out their own destinies. This has ugly, mean witches who selfishly only care about pain and domination. It is hard to get excited about a film asking us to root for the train robbers and against the women who have carved out their little piece of the west for themselves, but The Pale Door asks us to do just that.
Between the uneven pacing of the plot and the regressive presentation of witches The Pale Door is a difficult film to champion. It is actively fighting against the elements which it should embrace, and the audience is who gets lost in that tussle.
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