In The Pale Door, a dark western about love and sacrifice, there is a lack of congruence. It throws away a film brimming with backstory, lively characters, and a strained brotherly love to make room for some silly witches that look and act as if they came out of a Roald Dahl book. A great example of wasted potential. I wouldn’t even call it a disappointment, just bland, and certainly not as horrifying as it thinks it is. The film is essentially split in half with one part being a western and another being about witches, but they are not balanced or even compatible. It flows like a river with too many rocks and not enough water.
It starts strong on the road to an exciting drama about outlaws, opening with the violent raiding of a farmhouse where two young brothers are left as the only survivors of a massacre. The elder of the two, Duncan, grows up to become an outlaw while the younger, Jacob, lives an honest life working in a saloon. Duncan runs a loose variation of the real-life Dalton gang from the early 1890s, also called the Dalton gang, that’s wanted all over the country for robbery and murder. Despite his promise to come home for good, Duncan and his gang have one more big score to collect but when they’re one man short, Jake volunteers to help out, becoming a part of the gang.
It’s after the robbery, however, when things start to fall apart. The only goods they find turns out to be a young girl named Pearl locked inside a chest, her mouth held shut with a Hannibal Lector mask. She was seemingly captured by bounty hunters working for a man named Cotton Mather IV, a descendent of Cotton Mather, a name the movie clearly expects you to recognize. In case you don’t, Cotton Mather was a prominent figure during the Salem Witch Trials whose account of the trials to magistrate John Richards ensured the deaths of many innocent women.
Pearl tells them to take her back to her village where they will be given a handsome reward, secretly leading them to a horde of witches that are eagerly awaiting their arrival because as it turns out, Pearl’s abduction was not an abduction at all. It was a staged event to bring victims to her coven ruled by her mother, a woman burned at the stake over 200 years ago. Her mother, Maria, and all the other women are hideously burned monsters hiding beneath beautiful faces.
One significant flaw of the film is its lack of suspense. Everything is placed right in front of you for easy decoding. This is blatantly demonstrated in Pearl’s introduction. There is no question about whether or not Pearl is dangerous, we know she is. The movie wants you to know that her presence has sealed the fate of these people, making the long drawn out reveal of the other witches redundant. We know what’s coming and we’re just waiting for it. Rather than keeping the witches in the dark, hovering like demons in the shadows, their evil is put front and center in an almost cartoonish manner.
Honestly, the robbery was the highlight of the film for me. It kind of goes downhill from there but I would never say that The Pale Door is a bad film because it’s not. All the parts are good, it just has a hard time blending them all together. Everything feels like it’s coming from a different movie. The witches, the brothers, the outlaws; they’re all in different movies that had no correspondence prior to overlapping.
This film had three screenwriters, which might explain the excessive introduction of subplots that went nowhere. They just wanted to put more than they can fit. It’s largely made up of half-baked aborted ideas, backstories, that only clutter the film.
I admire the work that went into the character creations though. It’s clear that they put more work into the characters than they did in the plot. Some of the Dalton members include a mute Native American, a hard-drinking woman named Brenda, a gangster version of Pacific Rim‘s Dr. Hermann Gottlieb, and a former slave that helped raised the brothers. The brothers themselves are their own convoluted mess. They’re devoted to one another in that beautifully overprotective, codependent kind of way that I’m always a sucker for and have whole lives outside of what’s going on in the story. Jacob is even revealed to be gay later in the film, a detail dropped in a single throwaway line that is just used as a further pointless character definition. The witch Maria even has a flashback to her possible baby daddy sentencing her to burn. It’s all drama all around that goes absolutely nowhere. Kind of a waste.
In the end, I don’t have any strong feelings about The Pale Door. I don’t like nor do I hate it. I liked parts of it but came to feel nothing by the end credits, but that’s just me. I will give the film credit for taking a different approach to the conclusion. It doesn’t go the way most will expect and I enjoyed that, but otherwise, it’s rather unoriginal.
The Pale Door could’ve been something memorable but it prefers to remain indecisively spliced. It needs to pick a side. Cowboys or witches? Pick one.(2.5 / 5)
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