[The following review contains SPOILERS; YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED!]
When I first discovered the existence of Banmei Takahashi’s Door earlier this year (via various clips shared by fan accounts on Twitter), it was love at first sight. Luckily, while the movie currently lacks official distribution in the United States, I didn’t need to wait very long at all to see it (compared to Angel’s Egg, A Page of Madness, and Samurai Wolf, anyway) thanks to the Brooklyn Horror Film Festival, which screened it just before midnight on Friday, October 13th—basically the ideal context in which to experience its unique brand of madness.
The premise is as brilliant as it is straightforward: an ordinary housewife—already fed up with cold callers and their seemingly unlimited access to her family’s personal information—aggressively turns away an especially persistent salesman, slamming the door on his fingers after he ignores her repeated protests and attempts to force his way into her apartment. Unfortunately, this moment of instinctive panic has severe repercussions, resulting in an excruciatingly tense game of cat-and-mouse as the slighted pamphlet pusher’s vengeful wrath gradually evolves into perverse sexual obsession.
It’s a captivatingly mundane flavor of terror, twisting a familiar, relatable scenario into an inescapable nightmare. There’s nothing particularly memorable or remarkable about the central villain. He has no elaborate costume or mask, no supernatural abilities or distinguishing features; unlike Jason Voorhees, Michael Myers, and Leatherface, he doesn’t even wield a signature weapon (though he is quite handy with the absurdly convenient electric chainsaw that he scavenges from the protagonist’s collection of otherwise run-of-the-mill home appliances). This anonymity is absolutely chilling; he effortlessly blends in with the crowd—average, unassuming, invisible. Indeed, his façade of superficial “normalcy” is far more insidious than any explicit display of insanity; he taunts his prey with idle banter, seamlessly transitioning between casual flirtation and thinly veiled threats.
The director’s visual style perfectly complements the suspenseful tone of the narrative. Early scenes almost resemble a slice-of-life domestic drama, characterized by flat compositions and lighting. As the conflict escalates, however, the warm, inviting interiors slowly warp and distort, becoming cramped, claustrophobic, hostile. Foreground elements (potted plants, sculptures, windows, doorways) isolate our heroine within the frame, emphasizing her vulnerability. Voyeuristic point-of-view shots serve a similar purpose, subliminally insinuating that true “safety” is an illusion: the sinister stalker could be lurking around any shadowy corner. The increasingly maximalist cinematography culminates in the film’s most iconic sequence: a prolonged overhead angle that follows the now totally unhinged maniac as he relentlessly pursues his quarry from room to room, utterly demolishing every obstacle in his path—splintering wood, shattering glass, and reducing drywall to dust.
Yet some of the movie’s most haunting images are significantly less spectacular than this climactic set piece. Takahashi understands the inherent value of patience, frequently locking down the camera and lingering on long, uninterrupted closeups of his lead actress simply reacting to suspicious offscreen noises—the echo of footsteps in the corridor, for example, or the telltale rattle of the deadbolt being tested. Keiko Takahashi’s face is breathtakingly expressive; her turbulent emotions are palpable, a violent maelstrom of anxiety, desperation, and paralyzing fear clearly evident in every twitch of her eye, every crease in her brow, every tear staining her cheek.
How thematically appropriate that Door—a story that explores such everyday horrors as rampant commercialism, predatory marketing, and the erosion of privacy—should be at its scariest when it embraces naturalism, minimalism, and subtlety.