Directed by Saman Kesh, Jeff Desom, and Dugan O’Neal, and written by Kesh, Desom, O’Neal, as well as Chris White, and Ed Hobbs, Doors (2021) sees a number of mysterious, alien “doors” suddenly appear in every corner of the globe without explanation or warning. While many of those that encounter these sentient visitors feel the strange urge to interact with them – never to be seen again – others stay behind to face the potential threat of what their ultimate agenda towards mankind is. In a rush to determine the reason for the arrival of these cosmic anomalies, the government enlists volunteers to brave the journey to enter the doors so that we might learn more about their origin or purpose. But even these brave volunteers are not prepared for what lies beyond the threshold. The story of the doors is told through multiple perspectives: a ragtag band of high school students discover a door for the first time, volunteers explore the parallel reality beyond the threshold, and a lonesome hermit manages the seemingly impossible: establishing communication with a door.
This film is structured in a rather unique way. It features three separate stories, similar to that of an anthology film such as Creepshow (1982) or The Ballad of Buster Scruggs (2018). However, unlike a traditional anthology film whose only commonality is with their genre, time period, or maybe common framing device a la V/H/S (2012), these stories are all bound together through the common worldwide event of all these doors appearing. The reason it functions like an anthology is that these three stories with separate characters never interact with each other, which is why each segment functions as its own story. We see each of these stories at different time periods.
The first segment, titled ‘Lockdown,’ was directed by Jeff Desom and written by Saman Kesh. It shows what happened when these alien doors first appeared through the perspective of four students trapped inside their school during the event. They eventually come across one of these doors. The second segment, entitled ‘Knockers’ directed by Saman Kesh and written by Kesh and Ed Hobbs takes place a little while later. We follow three of these government enlisted volunteers known as Knockers (played by Lina Esco, Josh Peck, and Wilson Bethel) as they enter one of these doors and are forced to reckon with the psychological effects they experience from within. The final segment, ‘Lamaj’ directed by Dugan O’Neal and written by Kesh and O’Neal, takes place over 100 days after the doors first appeared. The brilliant yet reclusive Jamal (Kyp Malone) attempts to communicate with one of these doors to discover what they want.
This film had some really interesting ideas that it explored. The idea of these mysterious doors appearing on earth, no one knows what they want, and once people go in they don’t come out. A lot of the best visuals, story developments, and ideas were explored in the second and third segments. This brings me to my biggest issue with the film. I just found the first segment extremely weak and not that interesting, especially compared to the other two. I think in terms of the writing, the characters in this segment were extremely flat and uninteresting. I understand that with the shorter segments, the filmmakers have to condense these stories and the character development into 20-25 minutes, with the other two segments I feel like the story and character beats were much more believable and organic. However, with the first segment, the weak pacing was the most egregious. I also thought the directing was, unfortunately, the weakest and had the least amount of style.
That’s not to say there wasn’t anything good about the first segment. For instance, I think the design of the extraterrestrial door was really cool. And I think that it was really cool that we only get to see the appearance of these doors from the perspective of these children, who are in a lockdown and do not know what’s going on. It’s just as a narrative, I also think it would’ve been more impactful if we had waited until the second story to finally see it, to build some anticipation. Speaking of the second story, I thought that one was by far the best directed and best written. Aside from a few jokes that fall flat (which are also an issue in the third story), Saman Kesh in his feature film debut as a director did a great job of using visual language to help the audience piece things together. He was also to create some really neat and interesting visuals, which is also due to the production design which was especially creative and original in this segment. As a writer, he and Ed Hobbs did a great job of writing and crafting these scenarios and motifs that carried throughout the short. Josh Peck (“Drake & Josh,” Mean Creek) and Lina Esco (“Kingdom,” “S.W.A.T.”) ultimately had great chemistry and felt like the most well-rounded and developed relationship in the entire film. Lina Esco specifically was a standout performance for me. She was fantastic and I hope to see her future projects.
Speaking of performances, Kyp Malone as Jamal I also thought did a good job. Unfortunately, I found most of the other characters (in all the segments) rather bland. I think it’s an issue of not having enough time with the characters to really get to know and care about them, except for Jamal and Becky in the second segment. I think compared to the other two, this segment was definitely the most creative with exploring how the doors communicate. The other two mostly used on-screen text, which was another issue. This movie used on-screen text a lot and for multiple purposes to the point where it actually became a bit annoying.
After the third segment, there is this little conclusion. I thought it was cool the way this segment was presented, and how the computer screens the characters were on kept glitching. Unfortunately, I thought the dialogue and performances were so cheesy and over the top that it actually took away from what could’ve been a disturbing ending.
Verdict: 2 out of 5 Stars
An interesting premise with some neat visuals, ideas, and a strong second act, Doors (2021) unfortunately suffers from a lot of lackluster. A lackluster first segment, lackluster acting, and a lackluster ending. The film’s unique structure I think was sadly more of a burden on the film and took away from the experience. I applaud the directors and writers for coming together to create something structurally unique, but it unfortunately didn’t quite come together.