At The Door (Dys-) (2014)

A couple stuck in their Montreal apartment after a major event outside sees their already strained relationship start devolving into mistrust and perhaps a bit of madness.

Written and directed by Maude Michaud, At The Door, formerly called Dys-, is a look inside a relationship, what makes two people click then drift apart. The film also explores the psychological effects of being cooped up too long with no end in sight. Most of this is done by observing the lead Eva in her interactions with her significant other, with a friend of his, and with her mother. Michaud crafts a somewhat low key horror thriller that takes the time it needs to establish the characters and their relationships to each other before everything starts falling apart for them, including their minds. This leads to a more impactful result in terms of psychological horror as the characters feel familiar by the time things start taking a turn for the odd/worse.

The cast is fairly small, mostly revolving around Eva, the lead, and in one apartment and building. This lead is played by Shannon Lark who gives a nuanced performance that make come off cold at times but is actually well calculated so that what happens in the last third has more impact. She is the central character, the emotional anchor for the viewer, and she makes the most of it with deliberate acting choices, particularly in a few very bold moments. Playing her paramour Sam is Alex Goldrich who comes off a bit cold and distant, something needed here. When his character starts to devolve, his performance changes and adapts to what is needed. Playing Eva’s mom is Lynn Lowry who is both lovely and cutting in how she interacts with her daughter. This relationship is important here as it does influence how Eva deals with a turning point for herself in the film. The other cast members all do good work in their limited screen time, each bringing something that affects Eva and her situation.

The cinematography by Leon Rivers-Moore and Bryan Wilkat who both do good work here, is done in a way that creates images with a great attention to details atmosphere, particularly for Eva’s apartment, they give the location a sense of impending doom, like everything is closing in on its inhabitants. Even when the apartment is left, the images stay claustrophobic. In contrast, the images of Eva’s mom, who is in a different location, show a brighter, airier atmosphere. The difference helps enhance the darker, heavier atmosphere of the majority of the scenes. The differences help situation the scenes and give the characters very different point of views and lives.

As Dys-, or At The Door, is bit of a body-horror thriller, there are special effects. These take a while to show up but once they do, their impact is strongly felt. The makeup special effects by Sebastien Montpetit, with assistance by the visual effects from Syl Disjonk, are realistically done. Their work here elicits emotions and helps create the overall feeling for the scenes where they are involved.

At The Door is a thriller that brings the horror, including body horror and torture style horror, in its last third or so, taking the time to create characters, build them up, give them stakes, before pitting them against each other and an unseen situation. This leads to a film that feels personal and hits on the viewer’s emotions creating an effect that is much more than simply going for the gore and violence. This twisted character study is engaging and engrossing, it keeps the viewer wanting to know more, to see where it will go next. It’s the perfect film to watch barricaded in one’s apartment, wrapped up in a blanket on a rainy or snowy day.