The Pale Door

The Pale Door

2020, NR, 96 min. Directed by Aaron B. Koontz. Starring Melora Walters, Zachary Knighton, Natasha Bassett, Stan Shaw, Devin Druid, Pat Healy, Bill Sage.

REVIEWED By Matthew Monagle, Fri., Aug. 21, 2020

Witches, gunfights, and gore is not a combination found in many Westerns, but perhaps that says more about the genre than it does The Pale Door. In the latest film from Austin indie horror filmmaker Aaron B. Koontz, there is plenty of all three to go around, resulting in a totally acceptable entry into the undersized canon of horror-Westerns.

After their latest train robbery goes sideways, the Dalton gang takes refuge in a local town. There, ringleader Duncan (Knighton) and younger brother Jake (Druid) find themselves the guests of Maria (Walters), the local brothel owner and elder stateswoman of the community. As the night continues, though, the gang makes a terrible discovery: Maria and her wards are kept alive by dark magic, and they have their sights set on Jake as their latest sacrifice.

For most audience members, the draw of the film will be the actors. From Bill Sage to Pat Healy, the supporting cast peppers The Pale Door with interesting character choices that consistently elevates the material. Unsurprisingly, Walters reigns supreme, offering grand character elements that never threaten to overshadow the effective emotional stakes. Westerns have long been fertile ground for character actors, and the cast of The Pale Door work overtime to anchor the film in the familial relationships.

As a B-horror movie, The Pale Door holds its own. As a Western, however, the film struggles. Missing from the movies are the sweeping landscapes we associate with the genre. This may be a necessary tradeoff on the part of the production team, but there is still something maddening about watching a Western comprised entirely of medium shots. Even more frustrating is the soundtrack. More than any other mode of filmmaking, Westerns open the door for iconic and adventuresome scoring. The Pale Door is Exhibit A on how hard a film has to work to make up for a shapeless soundtrack.

In the end, your appreciation for horror-Westerns will determine where you stand with The Pale Door. If you are willing to look past the film’s genre shortcomings and find happiness in the little things – such as Sage’s Creole accent, or several cinematic nods to iconic entries in the genre – you might find the film to be worth your while. Until movies like The Wind or Bone Tomahawk are the norm, a film like The Pale Door is a perfectly acceptable place holder.

The Pale Door is being released simultaneously in theaters and on VOD.

Read our interview with writer/director Aaron B. Koontz, "Weird, Weird West," in this week's issue.

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The Pale Door, Aaron B. Koontz, Melora Walters, Zachary Knighton, Natasha Bassett, Stan Shaw, Devin Druid, Pat Healy, Bill Sage

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