Devin Druid as Jake
Zachary Knighton as Duncan
James Whitecloud as Chief
Bill Sage as Dodd
Noah Segan as Truman
Pat Healy as Wylie
Stan Shaw as Lester
Tina Parker as Brenda
Natasha Bassett as Pearl
Melora Walters as Maria
Directed & Co-Written by Aaron B. Koontz; Co-Written by Keith Lansdale and Cameron Burns
The Pale Door Review:
The western genre is one of the most long-standing in film and the Weird West subgenre that debuted in literature in the 1930s is one of the most fascinating things to come from it and though the past 30 years or so have seen an array of quality in films within the subgenre, Aaron B. Koontz’s The Pale Door proves to be one of the most thrilling and fun efforts in a long while, even if it does start off a bit slow.
The Dalton gang find shelter in a seemingly uninhabited ghost town after a train robbery goes south. Seeking help for their wounded leader, they are surprised to stumble upon a welcoming brothel in the town’s square. But the beautiful women who greet them are actually a coven of witches with very sinister plans for the unsuspecting outlaws-and the battle between good and evil is just beginning.
The story starts off in relatively interesting fashion, chilling flashbacks setting up a tragic past for the Dalton brothers that set them on their paths on both sides of the law, but once things shift to the present the film starts to hit a bit of a lull. The pacing and dialogue used to set up the other members of Duncan’s gang kind of feels too reliant on various tropes of the genre, from the silent stoic Dodd to the goofy hair-triggered Truman, but this reliance does come across as more of a loving ode to the classic westerns of old rather than a vacancy of fresh ideas on the writers’ behalf.
Once the group choose to come together for the perfect score, the pacing for the film begins to find its stride and the tension begins to grow in increasingly exciting fashion, with the train robbery proving to be a short and fun catalyst for the real thrills that lie ahead in the story. The group’s arrival in the near-ghost town sees the tension become so palpable that while horror enthusiasts may have some thoughts on what’s to come for the protagonists, general viewers will be kept guessing as the mystery builds and things go from intriguing to terrifying.
Given their prior work in the horror genre with films such as Camera Obscura, Scare Package and producing Starry Eyes, Koontz and Burns effortlessly transition into the terror portion of the story, delivering all of the gruesome shocks genre fans have come to see while also delivering some thoughtful character decisions and actions sure to sit with some viewers long after the credits roll.
Another major high point of the film comes in the form of Koontz’s direction and Andrew Scott Baird’s cinematography, which captures every element of the two genres on display in breathtaking fashion. From the beautiful color palette of its daytime scenes and sunset shots, almost as if pulled from Rockstar’s masterful Red Dead Redemption 2, to the chilling and expertly shot nighttime scenes that enhance the scares and gore put on display, even when the film might hit the occasional dragging moments, it’s one that at least looks great from start to finish, especially given its indie budget.
The cast for the film, though composed of an outstanding ensemble, does have a couple of standouts in the sadly worst ways, Be it the writing for his character or the underwhelming performance he delivers, Devin Druid proves to be a rather uninteresting lead character throughout the film, never allowing me to believe he’s actually his character but rather a younger performer still trying to find his footing in a heavier role in the world of film than he may be used to. It’s not the worst performance I’ve ever seen from an up-and-comer in the horror genre, nor is it without moments of potential, but given it’s one of the primaries in which audiences must really connect to, it’s definitely a drawback for the film.
The rest of the ensemble all deliver fairly compelling and fun performances to watch, with Zachary Knighton’s return to the horror genre proving to be a welcome one as he is a very strong second lead to Druid’s Jake, not to mention the always-excellent Pat Healy and Noah Segan, veterans of the indie horror genre that embrace their odd characters with glee in every scene.
Though a member or two of its cast may prove to be a bit lackluster and it struggles with pacing in the first act, Aaron B. Koontz’s The Pale Door eventually escalates into an outright thrilling and chilling blend of the horror and western genres with a still solid ensemble cast, a gleeful display of gore and magnificent direction from Koontz.
The Pale Door is now available in select theaters, on demand and digital platforms!