Irish horror seems to be having a moment, and director Aislinn Clarke has produced another worthy entry into that growing canon with The Devil’s Doorway. In a unique twist on both the found-footage and exorcism subgenres, the film is set in 1960 at one of Ireland’s infamous Magdalene Laundries, where novice priest Father John (Ciaran Flynn) and seasoned, Vatican-trained investigator Father Thomas (Lalor Roddy) are sent to verify reports of miraculous activity. The film unfolds in the form of documentary footage shot by Father John, as he and Father Thomas try to determine if the religious statues that have been seen crying blood around the laundry are a hoax or truly a sign from God. And while there does seem to be something supernatural afoot—as you can see in the exclusive clip from the film above—which god is behind the events is up for debate.
Speaking to The A.V. Club by phone from a dog park in Northern Ireland, Clarke says the film was proposed to her as a found-footage project set in the modern day at an abandoned Magdalene Laundry, which she modified to a period film set during the institutions’ heyday in the 1960s. (The film was shot in an old manor home-turned-WWII-era hospital and an abandoned linen mill.) “We really needed something to make it special and make it stand out, and we needed human drama, because human drama is always at the heart of a good horror movie,” she says. Magdalene Laundries, for those not familiar, were for-profit institutions in which women who became pregnant out of wedlock—or, basically, were deemed a threat to the patriarchal order in any way—were imprisoned and forced to work for the Catholic Church. Amazingly, the last of the Magdalene Laundries closed in 1996, one year before Clarke had her son at the age of 17. “I could have been one of these people,” she says. “I have a great empathy for the women who were imprisoned there and the lives that were stolen.”
The setting not only provided human drama, but also provided an opportunity to do something different with the found-footage concept: For historical accuracy, the film was mostly shot in 16mm on a combination of vintage and modern equipment, with digital footage modified to look like 16mm standing in for difficult shots like a sequence where Father John crawls on his stomach through a narrow underground tunnel. Analog film has “a totally different texture and feel to other found-footage films,” Clarke says. “I think it paid dividends. Particularly in the daylight scenes, there’s a texture that you just don’t get [with digital], no matter what filters you use.”
With the recent vote in Ireland to lift its ban on abortion—a ban, Clarke points out, that’s still in effect in Northern Ireland—the setting lends the film a sense of timeliness. “The world premiere happened in Seattle on the same night that the vote was happening,” Clarke says. “So when we went into the theater, we didn’t know what would happen, and when we came out we had a much better idea [of the result]. It was so strange that it was during those couple of hours that this change happened.” She adds, “as a woman in this country, it’s no small thing, and all of our lives have been impacted one way or another by the way women have been treated historically in Ireland.”
Asked if she thinks there’s a horror movement happening in Ireland, Clarke says, “I’m not sure exactly what’s driving it, but it does feel like there’s a bit of a movement. Irish people have always been really interested in horror, but there are more films in general being made here these days.” During the violent period known as The Troubles, she says, not many films were being made in Northern Ireland, but “things have gone through the roof since then. We’ve got Game Of Thrones and all that being shot here, so we’ve got a lot more infrastructure for filmmaking here than we used to have ... I think it’s partially [that], and also there’s been a bit of a resurgence in horror all around the world. I think we’re all aware that horror is having a moment.”
The Devil’s Doorway opens today in select theaters and on VOD courtesy of IFC Midnight.