Reviews of “The Other Side of the Door” and “Zootopia”

(Edit:  The audio for my review was messed up so I have deleted it and I do not plan on rerecording.  Sorry for the inconvenience.)

The Other Side of the Door

Michael (Jeremy Sisto) is an antiques dealer based in Mumbai, India. He lives there with his wife Maria (Sarah Wayne Callies) and their two children Lucy and Oliver (Sofia Rosinsky and Logan Creran). A traffic accident leaves Oliver dead and Maria devastated to the point where she attempts suicide. Their housekeeper Piki (Schitra Pillai-Malik) lost her daughter some years earlier and tells Maria of a way to say a final goodbye to Oliver. There is an abandoned temple far into the country where Maria must spread Oliver’s ashes on the steps then close and lock the door behind her. She will be able to briefly speak with Oliver once the sun goes down but must not, under any circumstances, open the door. Wanting more time with her son, Maria opens the door and allows Oliver’s spirit to cross over from the land of the dead to the living. It accompanies Maria home where strange and disturbing things begin happening.

“The Other Side of the Door” has the elements to be a fair to middling horror movie. It does a pretty good job of establishing a spooky atmosphere, troubled and troubling characters and consequences for not following the rules. What it fails at is capitalizing on the good points with quality scares and involving all the major characters in the meatier parts of the story.

Poor Jeremy Sisto’s character is pretty much done with the story once he impregnates Maria. Left out of or in the dark for the majority of the story, Sisto is only seen occasionally throughout the film as either a hard working or deeply concerned husband and father. Once the supernatural elements begin to develop his Michael is nowhere to be found. When he is brought in near the end of the film, his role is as the doubter that only gets pain and injury for his trouble. Leaving Michael out till the end is like if the “X-Files” kept Mulder and Scully apart until the last five minutes of the episode. Michael could have started skeptical then, as he saw more weirdness, became more of a believer and actually could have helped in the movie’s somewhat messy finale; however, for some reason he is considered as nothing more than an afterthought.

Sarah Wayne Callies is tasked with doing most of the heavy lifting in the movie. She is saddled with the more emotional role and is also the reason all the bad things happen. While Callies may be the best thing about the movie, there is still a kind of vacancy to her performance. Her reactions to weird happenings around her home feel a bit inappropriate at times. A book falls from a shelf and a chair moves near the edge of the dead boy’s bed, encouraging Maria to sit down and read the ghost a story which she happily does. Maybe the character is in shock and is just happy to have something of her child back in her life; however, if it was me I would have run screaming out of the room. There are other odd reactions to the presence of her dead child’s spirit throughout the film.

There has recently been a great deal of talk about diversity in Hollywood and I thought a film set and shot in India would probably be a showcase for Indian actors. I was wrong. Apart from Suchitra Pillai-Malik playing a housekeeper and a few scattered brief speaking roles, there are no Indians performing in any major parts. While the city of Mumbai and the Indian countryside are briefly displayed, the focus is squarely on the white characters. A few local actors play the parts of a cannibalistic tribe that follows Maria around after she visits the temple but their sole purpose is to act as boogeymen and provide the occasional mild scare.

“The Other Side of the Door” is filled with tense set ups and mild scares. It never manages to pull off a really frightening moment. Seeing the spirit of Oliver manifest itself as a rotting corpse, while explained later in the film, doesn’t make a great deal of sense. The budget for the film appears to have been fairly low as there isn’t much in the way of special effects. A walking/crawling death demon appears to have had its appearance borrowed from “The Grudge.” If your expectations are low or you are easily frightened, “The Other Side of the Door” may be precisely what you’re looking for, otherwise stay away.

“The Other Side of the Door” is rated R for some bloody violence. The movie doesn’t deserve an R rating because that violence comes very late in the film and isn’t that graphic or gory. PG-13 probably would have been more accurate. We do see Oliver as a rotting corpse on a couple of occasions. We also see dead birds on the ground that quickly rots before our eyes. Foul language isn’t an issue.

While starting out with an interesting premise and spooky environment, “The Other Side of the Door” squanders what it’s given and presents the viewer with just another mediocre mildly tense horror flick.

“The Other Side of the Door” gets two stars out of five.

Zootopia

Judy Hopps (voiced by Ginnifer Goodwin) never let her small size get in the way of her big dreams. Growing up on a carrot farm, Judy always dreamed of being a police officer in the gleaming metropolis of Zootopia where animals of all types, from the biggest predator to the smallest prey, lived together in harmony. Judy attended the police academy and figured out ways to use her small size to her advantage graduating at the top of her class. Zootopia mayor Leodore Lionheart’s (voiced by J.K. Simmons) new inclusion initiative means Judy will be the first bunny on the police force. Her boss Chief Bogo (voiced by Idris Elba), a massive water buffalo, is unimpressed and assigns Judy to traffic detail writing tickets for parking violations. Soon Judy hears of 14 missing person cases all involving predators. A photograph connects one of the missing to a red fox named Nick Wilde (voiced by Jason Bateman) who considers himself a great con man. Confronted by Judy and threatening to use his own words against him to send him to jail, Nick reluctantly agrees to help Judy track down one of the missing predators. Judy and Nick soon discover there is a dark side to these disappearances that may tear all of Zootopia apart.

“Zootopia” is a simplistic film that manages to hide a deeply subversive message under its bright and colorful surface. It’s the kind of message that might upset some commentators in this contentious election year and could start arguments on talk shows. The subversive message I speak of? Don’t discriminate based on your fears and assumptions about those different from you. Shocking, I know.

“Zootopia” spends a great deal of time setting up its alternate universe where animals evolved (I know, another contentious word during an election cycle) beyond their base nature of being either predator or prey and began working together to establish a society that led to the city of the title. It is a fully realized world with high-speed elevated trains and various environments reflecting the homes of each type of animal. Rainforest, desert, savannah, tundra, and tiny rodent town are all explored and designed in a way that makes sense given the different needs of all the various sized animals. Visually, “Zootopia” is stunning with buildings one might expect to see in Dubai. While bright, the color palate of the film manages to avoid becoming a jangled mess and creates a world that is wild and imaginative yet still pleasant to look at.

The story of “Zootopia” takes a bit of time to develop and that’s great as it gives us more of an opportunity to get to know the characters, primarily Judy and Nick. There is a surprising bit of chemistry between the two even when they are at odds initially. The unbridled enthusiasm of Judy and the cynicism of Nick work to create a kind of combustible emotional mixture that at times explode into either humor or drama. Both Ginnifer Goodwin and Jason Bateman are terrific in their voice parts. There is playfulness to both characters that the combination of the voices and the visuals really brings out.

I don’t want to ruin the film for you so I will keep specifics of the plot to myself; however, it is a rather sophisticated plan that takes a good deal of the movie’s 108 minute run time to unfold. As more details are revealed it makes the audience more and more curious about what exactly is going on. Any guesses before a certain point in the film will undoubtedly be wrong but feel free to join with your child and try to figure out the specifics. It is this plan that gets wrapped up in the ultimate message of looking past stereotypes and avoiding uneducated judgements. While parents will feel a bit beaten around the head and neck with the lesson the film tries to teach, the rest of the movie’s humor and action should soften the assault.

“Zootopia” is rated PG for some thematic elements, rude humor and action. There are some chase scenes and a couple of threats of violence that may disturb the very youngest viewers. There are also a few jokes about how well rabbits multiply. The theme of discrimination and mob mentality might cause some discussion after the film. There are no language concerns.

“Zootopia” is the kind of film children and parents will both find enjoyable. From the goofy humor, the action and the bright colors to the message, this children’s film is one that is fully packed for audiences of all ages. Perhaps it should even be mandatory viewing for presidential candidates. They might learn something whether they like it or not.

“Zootopia” gets five stars.

Four new films hit screens this week. I’ll see and review at least one of these:

10 Cloverfield Lane—

The Brothers Grimsby—

The Perfect Match—

The Young Messiah—

Follow me on Twitter @moviemanstan and send emails to stanthemovieman@comcast.net.

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