harsens_rob (harsens_rob) wrote,

Movie Reviewed: 19 Doors {part 1 of 3}


19 Doors

Starring: Bill Laing, Natalie Bail, Norm Wash, Lake Asbury
DIR: Bruce Koehler

Blurb: When a producer suggests that screenwriter Grace Mitchel pen a horror story set in an old hotel, the long-abandoned Lyndora seems the perfect inspiration. The turn-of-the-century hotel is known for its rough and seedy past -the doors to its rooms sealed 50 years ago following a series of gruesome murders - and local lore says it’s haunted.

Despite the reservations of family and friends, an undaunted Grace takes up residence in the eerie inn to immerse herself in writing… But now that the doors are open, the secrets of the past begin to emerge.

As disturbing, but seemingly explicable, events begin to escalate, Grace struggles to define reality from insanity and begins a descent into darkness from which some will never return.

Scene 01: We open in a diner where we see a waitress carrying a pot of coffee to a table of patrons. She refreshes the cups at one table hosting a man and a woman. The woman is handing over a film treatment she’s completed for the opening of the prospective film she’s writing. This will mark her as our screenwriter, Grace Mitchel of whom we’ve already read about.

Our agent is Bob Pearson, and he barely glances at Grace’s work before voicing that he’s a little disappointed that she already started it. At first she’s annoyed, but Bob tells her that he was hoping that he’d be able to offer her something inspiring before she began, which intrigues her interest. He tells her about finding a really creepy setting that would make a great horror picture.

Bob shares about finding the Lyndora Hotel, a place with a scary history. Grace questions whether he’s thinking ghost story or murder-mystery? But Bob isn’t interested in what happens, only that he wants a story that will scare and involves the backdrop of a hotel.

Commentary: So, let’s address a few things first off and then we can put them aside. One - it looks like this was filmed on digital video which is the cost conscious choice for independent producer-directors. This in itself isn’t bad, but it does make the film look different than other movies… the colors are less bold, the lighting tends to be brash in daylight and can be murky in darker settings, depending on how gifted the cinematography and lighting techs are, and most obvious - the picture looks ‘flat’. Images don’t pop off the screen in a way that real film has.

You can see this immediately, so if you just can’t tolerate the format, you’ll be bothered by this affect because it’s right out front on this one. It irked me for the first 10 minutes or so on my first viewing, but then I stopped focusing on it.

Next, we need to address our actors: I’m not going to say anything specific about the acting immediately because we’ve only met our characters, but this first scene does have the feel of a scene that wasn’t completely rehearsed before filming and the actors [but especially Bryan] do seem a bit uncomfortable with the camera’s presence, including what may’ve been a slight stumbling over Bryan’s first line that another take should’ve been done for. Natalie does better here, but the camera isn’t doing either of them any favors. Bryan, as director, has them a bit too close in frame and it could’ve used another step back so things didn’t look so crowded on our pair. It could’ve been worse though - Natalie is placed to the left of the frame, which does give the focus on her some room for the scene to breath, but - yeah, another step back would’ve helped.

Scene 02: When next we see our pair, Bob is escorting Grace to the Lyndora Hotel Bar, which remains open though its one-time sponsor-hotel didn’t last.

They stand outside of it, looking up at its sign [spook-music, which sounds overly John Carpenter-ish plays over this… I’m mentioning it because you have another comment coming up about it].

Commentary: So… I can get the idea behind the soundtrack here. Obvs, Grace and Bob are about to enter a series of strange events that will lead into horror and we want to get a sense of foreboding over what our main protagonist is about to suffer in the hotel. Got that.

BUT. Well, while I do like the camera being mounted on the roof of the bar and gazing down on our two leads… that was really more inspired than just following them, so that was great… the music doesn’t really work with the setting here. Unfortunately, this was filmed in broad noonday light, and while that can certainly still work as a contrast between what our ignorant protagonist is walking into vs. the safety of day, you need a certain ambiance for that. The digital video brittleness in bright light undercuts any creepy vibe attempted. This would’ve been much better a short scene if it had been filmed in sunset, near twilight rather than middle day.

It’s also a problem that our closed down hotel with the open bar is apparently located on a busy residential/small business street. For this sort of film to work, it’s always better for the main player to be isolated. Even with the location shot being at this particular place, the camera placement, focus and some sound tweaking could’ve covered this up better and made it feel like Grace is in a place that she may not find immediate help and if  things start going sour.

Finally, the shot is a bit weird because although we’re getting the bar sign, we’re not seeing any hint of a creepy hotel. One can surmise it’s because this bar location has no relation in real life to any abandoned building that could play our hotel’s part but an insert shot of Grace mentioning whether the hotel is in surprisingly good shape or a hulking wreck she’s worried about the safety of behind the bar and Bob downplaying any real danger, despite the building’s abandonment would’ve helped sell the illusion that it’s  there, just off screen, as it were.

Scene 03: Grace and Bob don’t enter the bar, but rather go directly into the hotel. Our script writer is unnerved by a man sitting out front of the hotel and giving her the stink-eye as she goes up the steps.

Inside Grace agrees with Bob’s choice as being inspired to help her get some ideas. She asks how he managed to find it and he reports that his friend, Mattie, runs the bar downstairs and opened up these upper floors just for them to use. He mentions that nobody has been up there in 50 years.

Cue Our Credits

[I like this credit sequence a lot. It’s simply shots of different parts of the hotel in close up, like door handles, a staircase railing, an electrical box, and the names of the cast are floated over it. But the theme music for the movie is well done -- though slightly too John Carpenter-ish, still -- and it did what it should; I’m ready to begin the meat of the tale.]

Scene 04: When we return from credits, Grace is wandering the upper floors of the hotel and calling for Bob.

Commentary: I’ll save you the confusion I had: We’re not returning from credits to the same scene. This is a different day, perhaps the next, which we’ll only realize when we remember what Grace and Bob were wearing in the scene before and how they’re dressed now. The timeline transition was badly done here, taking a shortcut following credits that threw me off.

Scene 05: As Grace continues her tour alone, she’s brought a camera along and begins to take a few photos of interesting features to inspire her later when she’s writing. She comes across a dark shadow shape in a doorway, and screams, being startled.

She tells whoever it is that she wasn’t trespassing and is meeting someone there. She’s startled again by Bob, placing a hand on her shoulder and calling her name in an aggressively loud manner to get her attention.

Grace claims that the homeless guy scared her [the guy from out front the visit before] but of course when she and Bob look, there isn’t any guy and the darkness that caused the apparition’s features to be obscured is nowhere to be found. The room looks like a tastefully decorated room and nothing more.

[A room that is apparently still cleaned on a regular basis, despite being abandoned for 50 years… in fact, the entire ‘abandoned’ hotel seems to still have housekeeping and maintenance in regularly.]

Bob says they should let Mattie know that somebody else has been in there, but asks as to why she’s called him. She tells him that she came up there to take a few pictures, but she’s come up with an idea to share.

Commentary: Okay. The jump scare thing doesn’t work well here. Again, the hotel hallway where the scene takes place is too well lit to give the proper ambiance. More, the way that Bob’s arm is filmed coming from off-screen is just awkwardly and unnaturally filmed which telegraphs that Grace is about to get an empty scare before she does.

Also, Bryan’s acting is again a bit too self conscious, especially when it comes to trying to act naturally while we can see he’s waiting for Natalie’s line delivery for him to continue with his dialog. I will say that Natalie gives a good jump-scream reaction.

As to Grace’s lack of peripheral vision… in this scene it can be justified as Grace being mesmerized by the ghostly presence, so I won’t slam the scene for that. This time... But it continues to annoy me when films use cheap-scares by having things happen that any normal person woulda seen coming… and it happens ALL THE TIME.

Scene 06: Another jump cut to later. Now Grace is at home. Her daughter is rolling her eyes at her mother staying in some old, abandoned hotel alone. But Grace assures her she won’t be there by all by herself. She tells her that Bob will be dropping in to check on her and there is a bar downstairs if she runs into trouble.

Her daughter asks about what Dean thinks of her moving out for a short time to live in this abandoned hotel but quickly intuits that Natalie hasn’t shared her plans with him yet.

We find out Dean is the fiancé and isn’t going to be pleased. But Grace blows this off as her not being that far away and he can stop by to check on her, too. This is for the sake of HER ART, but her daughter isn’t feeling it. She tells her mother, a bit brattily, that she’s just going to get obsessed and insane over writing this stupid screenplay.

She’s left still unhappy as Grace tells her she’s going to be fine and she’s committed to staying at the hotel until this writing project is finished.

Commentary: Okay, it’s really starting to bug me that nobody uses names around here. And “The Google” isn’t helping me to identify who is who with some image/name combos. Right now, I’m assuming that our daughter is Liz, and the actress is Asbury Lake [Edit Much Later Into The Review: No, Asbury Lake is our ghostly Liz… so this would be Eva, with actress Caitlyn O’Connor?]

Scene 07: At the bar, the place is shutting down for the early morning with only one patron still there. He’s got his head down on the bar, his drink not touched.

This is Father Pat, clearly not the most saintly of priests. Grace comes up to the bar to meet with Mattie and the bartender offers to go and fetch her. While this is being done, Father Pat takes a moment to gander at Grace’s ass.

Grace treats this with humor, but does wonder if he’s a real priest. She then joins Mattie for a tour of the downstairs, should she need anything in the overnight hours.

[Meaning that the hotel is supposedly attached to this small corner bar.]

Scene 08: In the back, Mattie and Grace discuss Father Pat and yes, he really is a priest though he’s clearly fallen away from his vows in his mid-old age.

Mattie offers to set Grace up in this meeting room for her stay with them, but Grace obviously wants to stay upstairs in the atmosphere of her setting.

Scene 09: Upstairs, Mattie questions anyone staying there what with the building not exactly kept up in the last five decades, but Grace is insistent that this will be perfect.

They discuss the history of the Lyndora in its heyday. Despite the town booming because of the steel mill trade, the owners just couldn’t keep the place going because of the stigma of the murders.

Grace asks about them and Mattie is surprised anyone in town hasn’t already heard the story. It seems that The Vixen used to live and work out of the hotel. She’d seduce men for their money and then murder them and got away with it for a long while, having many victims before anyone caught her. She tells her that ‘they’ say that behind every one of the 19 Doors in the hotel, The Vixen left her mark.

Grace takes it as just a tale that Mattie tells to interest the patrons, but she indicates that no, it really is history. This only excites Grace more as to her new project.

Mattie tells her that she needs to get back downstairs but offers that she or her special needs daughter will always be available if anything comes up. She asks once more if Grace is sure about staying in the spooky room, but our writer replies that it’s just a room and she’s fine.

Commentary: I really liked Winters Barbra nearly immediately as Mattie. Her acting is the most natural thus far, and she exudes a warm glow as the property owner. I also liked the way the two actresses worked together in this scene, which felt far more natural than Natalie’s scenes with Bryan.

Scene 10: We skip to an outside view of our hotel/bar sign, and there we can see the hotel that we’ve been talking about [… and… okay, I can see why we didn’t see it before; there is nothing inherently spooky about it - in fact, it could just be a house].

We pan in toward the second floor, where Grace will be living for the next few weeks.

Scene 11: Inside, again at the bar, Father Pat is telling another patron, “No, I’m a straight priest” to his smirking companion.

They’re joined by Grace moments later, introducing herself to the day barkeep and picking up an order of fries. After the barkeep goes to check with the kitchen on her order, [and after a slightly awkward & self-conscious pause] Grace mentions to the Priest that he’s still there, but he offers that he’s back. He comments that she’s still there though and she tells him that she’s living there.

Smirking Companion offers her a good luck and then proceeds to tell her about the hauntings that go on upstairs. The Priest offers he did an exorcism about four years ago of the upstairs and it was a messy affair.

Barkeep comes back with Grace’s fries and tells her to ignore them, they’re just messing with her.

Smirky asks Priest how long he thinks that Grace will stay and he offers three hours.

Commentary: The Priest character is, I guess, going to be our comedy relief. Alas, thus far we’ve had nothing to be relieved of… things are moseying along as we wait for Grace to finally be isolated in the haunted hotel. I’d also say that Norm Wash is trying a bit hard and while he’s not bad at all in the role thus far, his scenes do have that feel of self-consciousness in front of the camera again. This was probably enhanced by the habit of all of our actors waiting expectantly for each others’ lines to complete which makes the transition from one actor speaking to another feel awkward.

Another issue I’m having with the directing though is the weird way we keep zooming into a location, only for the next scene to not be at that location. The entire point of the zoom should be to either give you special focus on something that the characters aren’t seeing that the audience is getting, or to establish a sense of where the next scene is taking place as a transition. The slow zoom isn’t serving any purpose here.

I get the feeling that maybe we’re supposed to be nervous about the old hotel, but that would only work if the slow zoom was taking place from inside looking at Bob and Grace as if the building itself was aware of the planned intrusion or a ghost were spying on the outside world. But that isn’t how it was filmed.

Scene 12: That night, Grace is working on her ideas for the story when she’s startled by the sounds of one of the doors creeping open. She freezes and stares at her own door, while POV-CAM hovers near her ceiling watching her.

Things start to rattle in her room and the table lamp flickers, further ratcheting up Grace’s fear. This is followed in quick succession by somebody pounding on her room door. Her closet door slams shut by itself.

Scene 13: When things have quieted, Grace risks opening her room door to peer out into the hallway. After some hesitation, she chooses to go out into the corridor where she walks down the hallway. She finds down the corridor a door just barely cracked open and with a hole where the doorknob would’ve been at some point in the past.

Grace creeps up to the empty doorknob place and peeks through, where she sees a woman in a white nightie. As Grace continues peeping, our stranger sits down and begins to roll down a silk stocking, sharing glances with someone unseen.

The stranger seems to see Grace peeping and smiles before then slamming the door shut, startling Grace out of her peering.

Scene 14: The following day, Grace is speaking to Bob Pearson and accuses the bar [and presumably Bob’s friend, Mattie] of running a secret brothel. He finds the idea hilarious.

Grace also seems a bit… well… in her cups, and she probably is since there is a bottle of vodka or gin or something on the table next to her typewriter. She goes on telling Bob that there is a girl taking $20 to service guys. Bob jokes that a twenty seems pretty cheap.

Bob continues to treat the situation with humor and asks her what the big deal is if some woman is using the hotel after hours. Grace complains it was three in the morning and we find out it’s only seven now. Bob asks if she’s gotten any sleep and she admits that she hasn’t. She’s also a little upset that she tried to call Dean and nobody answered.

He offers that she should really get some sleep and advises her not to worry so much about what other people are doing in the hotel. As far as she’s concerned, she’s there to write… so get to it. He also mentions maybe her going up to another floor. She’s left dissatisfied over his not taking strange women and their customers more seriously.

Commentary: Which, uh, yeah. I’d consider maybe telling her to take some notes about the place and leave before dark, while I went and talked to Mattie about her presumed-trespassers and illegal activity… unless Bob thinks Mattie is the sort to be running a prostitution setup out of her bar. Either way, sleazy anonymous johns doesn’t sound like a secure environment for Grace to be in the building alone.

Scene 15: It’s presumably later that night, when Grace hears a phone ringing somewhere on the floor she’s staying on. She presumes that it is coming from her squatter/prostitute floor neighbor. She creeps back down to the woman’s room and uses the lack of a doorknob to slip into it, where no one is there currently.

The phone continues its monotonous ringing. Grace, clearly against her own better judgment, picks up the phone and gives a tentative hello -- on the other hand is a breathy, whispered voice which sounds male in the background. In the foreground is the loud harsh breathing of what sounds like a female. With no one responding to Grace’s enquiries, she slams the phone down, creeped out.

She then finds that the phone cord isn’t plugged into the wall….

As she drops this in confusion, she notes on a doll’s rocking chair nearby an old baby doll, but also a Ouija Board. As Grace is considering the game/device, behind her we see a child ghost - presumably the owner of the doll. The child ghost laughs behind her and Grace turns to be asked by the child ghost if she’d like to play before she runs off.

Commentary: Hmmm. Okay. This particular scene is another that could work better if the room wasn’t so well lit… and clean….

Our big problem is our environment isn’t helping us get into the mood that we should be in as we travel through Grace experiencing more and more things that suggest the hotel is, in fact, haunted by several spirits. It’s little things, but Grace trying to “wipe dust” that isn’t there from the very new looking Ouija box, and the utter lack of ‘abandonment’ in our surroundings is making it difficult to immerse ourselves in the tale. I like the music cues, although their volume is a bit uneven and I also liked the after-effects used for the ghost girl’s voice and retreating footsteps. But visually, our little ghost is too much a kid in makeup. Some special FX, even just a tiny bit to alter her image a little would’ve gone a long way. She’s too solid and the harsh, flat effect of the digital video isn’t helping us buy that we’re not watching a child in makeup act… especially with her crammed so closely to Grace for the two-shot. If she was tucked into a dark corner of the room where we couldn’t see her so clearly it also would’ve helped the scene.

Scene 16: Grace returns to the hallway, clutching the Ouija and calling out for the little girl. The girl comes out for a side passage with her finger over her lips, urging Grace to shush.

Grace apparently doesn’t notice that she’s supposed to look ghostly with those dark circles around her eyes because she tries to tell her that she shouldn’t be up there. The little girl gives a smile and runs off, with Grace following behind her.

Scene 17: The little girl leads Grace into another room. From a corner and heavily bearded man with long hair in a rain jacket launches out and knocks Grace to the floor.

She’s knocked out by the blow of her head against the floor and our stranger grabs her ankles and drags her off down the hallway. She comes to while she’s be dragged away, still clutching the ghost board and, quite naturally, panics.

The screen goes to black….

Scene 17: When Grace comes to, she’s in an unfamiliar room. A man walks into her line of sight and introduces himself as Detective Patrone. He flashes his badge down at Grace’s face while telling her that they received a call about screaming.

Grace is sitting in shock, crammed into a corner of what may be the attic.

Scene 18: Later, Grace is with presumably-Dean who has joined her at the hotel. The detective has made a sweep of the building and found nobody else. Detective Patrone questions her about the little girl she saw, as there is a local missing child, but the photo of the girl the police are looking for isn’t the one that Grace saw.

The detective turns attention to the “big man” which Grace describes as 6’ 6-7” with a black face, like all in shadow keeping her from identifying him. Patrone immediately tells her that it sounds like the accomplice in an earlier, still open case. He happens to have an article all about it on his person. He hands this over to her before being on his way, warning her against not playing with the Ouija board on his way out.

When alone, Dean looks closer at the news article the detective left.  Grace glares in dissatisfaction at both the detective and Dean for reasons unclear.

Scene 19: She goes back to her treatment that she’s been working on.

As she shuffles through her papers, Grace is startled by another stranger in the hotel, this one a young woman. She drops her papers and goes to retrieve them.

When she stands back up, the girl is gone and Dean is looking at her with worry. Grace claims that she saw a mouse, which isn’t surprising considering 50 years worth of abandonment [but also a bit disappointing, considering just how well the place was maintained and the great job the cleaning staff has been doing].

Commentary: This scene is problematic because it doesn’t lead anywhere. Dean doesn’t discuss with Grace her leaving the hotel after this attack on her, the Detective doesn’t tell her she shouldn’t stay there alone until they find her attacker, he doesn’t ask about what the big man was wearing or even if she can remember any thing unusual, nobody suggests a check by a doctor after her blow to the head… but weirdest is that scene with Dean. After he walks out of the room and Grace follows him out with her few pages of work she’s done, you’d think it was leading to a confrontation scene where Dean demands that she leave and she - for contrived reasons - tells him she can’t now because she’s getting so much work done, blah-blah.

But it leads to NOTHING. Their scene is just … done….

Scene 20: Grace goes to the bar downstairs and asks after the priest, who we can see is sitting in a back booth with Smirking Friend. The only other two patrons in the bar. Barmaid points out the easily seen table where the easily seen priest is sitting.

Grace asks what he’s doing stuffed in the back corner and they share a laugh as barkeeper tells her he’s taking confession.

Scene 21: Smirking Friend is conveniently finished when Grace barges her way up to the table, fortunately.

At first Father Pat insists to her that it’s confession night, not random subjects night but after they play the charade of her asking for confession, she gets to her questions about the history of the hotel. She doesn’t get any help, other than the suggestion she ask Mattie about the place but asks the Father to come up and see her later to his confused surprise. He offers to come up later after his confession night duties.

Scene 22: Later [making the line about not coming up immediately a bit pointless], Grace leads Pat to her room. He mentions that the last time a man came up to that room, he didn’t leave again. He blusters to Grace to let him go in alone so he can feel out the room without her hanging over his shoulder.

Once inside, Father Pat [with a canted camera set up to imply supernatural shenanigans afoot] is appalled that she’s staying in such a run down room and implies that it’s not only inspiring her writing, it seems. To this the door slams completely on its own, though he takes this for Grace trying a cheap scare.

He opens the door back up and tells her that it wasn’t even amusing. Grace tells him she didn’t slam the door, but thought he had.  He offers to come the next day with his proper accoutrements in order to bless the place for her.

They return to the bar for a drink. After the leave, the door slowly swings closed by itself.

Scene 23: Sometime later, we see a shadow shape in a light fog. As the figure comes forward, it turns out to be Grace and she’s trapped in B&W World [presumably we’ll find her dreaming through this part].

Grace slowly makes her way down the corridor to a room sealed in heavy plastic. In the room beyond, she finds a large man hanging from the rafters by a hanging rope.

She creeps closer to him, staring up into his face and leaning forward. He opens his eyes, startling her and sending her careening backwards. She bumps into her attacker guy now standing behind her.

He asks her what her hurry is and asks her to hang around, producing another hanging rope just for her. Grace runs, instead.

But when she pushes aside the plastic over the doorway, another woman is standing there and she welcomes her home. This is the brothel-woman Grace spied on before.

All of them are now surrounding her and laughing at her.

Scene 24: Grace awakens to the sound of static-filled radio. She’s not in the hotel, but home with Dean lying next to her. After dealing with the radio, she takes a few moments to orient herself after her harrowing nightmare. Dean doesn’t wake up through this.

Scene 25: Grace goes straight to the bottle of booze and takes a healthy amount to steady her nerves. The liquor is kept conveniently in her bedroom… and by the way she gulps it down in one large swallow, it’s obvious that Grace and alcohol are very familiar companions.

Grace wanders out into her darkened house, while behind her at the bedside, the radio turns itself on again.

Commentary: I really liked this sequence. The B&W photography to handle Grace within her nightmare was well used, and I liked the deep blue lighting in her bedroom that was used well to not only darken the scene which has been lacking where it would’ve helped out, but it also gave us an off-kilter impression that was welcomed. In addition, I like the hints that Grace has had alcohol dependency issues, playing on that subtle booze bottle sitting next to her writing desk at the hotel.

It helps us accept that Grace could either be imagining most, if not all, of her experiences or that the interaction with the spirits are driving her into a mental break down because she’s already damaged going in. I really welcome seeing Grace outside of the hotel after her attack, since it was sitting really wrong how nobody’s first words of advice were “Get Out, It’s Not Secure --- OBVIOUSLY, IDIOT”.

And, I like the clear implications that the hotel or its ghostly past has already gotten its hooks into her, so simply leaving is already too late to save her.

Scene 26: In her bathroom, Grace washes her face. Her slow movements suggests that she’s still fuzzy-headed from snapping awake out of a dead sleep, combined now with her shot of liquid comfort.

Naturally when she stands up, Prostitute-Murderess is waiting for her in the mirror. Grace spins around to find nobody behind her and tells herself that she needs to stop drinking.

But then our Prostitute is standing beside her and offers a sexy “hmmm” at her.

Scene 27: Grace blacks out again, lying on the floor with some blood from her nose.

It’s daybreak when she comes around.


Tags: review 19 doors

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