The outlaw “Dalton gang” gets more than they bargained for when they try to rob a train in this subversive horror western mash-up. Aaron B. Koontz (Camera Obscura, Scare Package) shepherds his audience through a well-crafted period piece that starts with a brief introduction to our criminal gang. Proudly enjoying drinks at a saloon adorned with their own “wanted’ posters, the cast quickly centers on the relationship between brothers Duncan (Zachary Knighton) and Jake (Devin Druid).
This intro, together with a brief prologue, implies that Duncan essentially raised Jake, with the help of now-aging Lester (Stan Shaw), after the death of their father. Thus the gang serves as a sort of family unit, of which Jake is the youngest. But circumstances require Jake’s presence on the train heist, setting in motion a chain of events that puts the brother’s relationship at the very heart of this film about a manic witch battle.
Knighton (The Hitcher, Santa Clarita Diet) anchors the film with a strong leading performance. His rugged western anti-hero good looks help sell the illusion. Meanwhile, the commanding presence of Shaw (The Monster Squad, Cutthroat Island) provides a nice jolt of credibility. And it’s on this foundation that the audience can more easily relate to the boyish Druid (13 Reasons Why), with his baby face and in-over-his-head storyline. Overall, Pale Door delights with fun performances and an interesting, diverse cast of western characters.
Unfortunately, I don’t feel like we get as much back story about our other gang, of the female persuasion. Granted, their exposition comes at a much later point in the film, so perhaps I’m letting my reluctance to reveal spoilers cloud my assessment. But it’s equally plausible that the audience just isn’t given the same amount of time to assess the circumstances of our antagonist group. Regardless, it’s clearly Duncan and Jake’s story, and everyone else plays a supporting role.
As a whole, Koontz definitely pulls off a true ‘mashup’ in the sense that two very different movies come together and meet in the middle. The whole first act feels like a western, with a fun spin on familiar tropes. But by the second half, the film transitions firmly into horror. Characters shed their unassuming exteriors, revealing the monsters within as glorious explosions of blood splatter the screen.
For nitpickers, it’s true that the presence and influence of witches grants the writers a certain amount of latitude to play fast and loose with logic. Characters inevitably end up where the movie wants them to be when it wants them to be there. Nevertheless, I found it easy enough to suspend disbelief for the sake of a well-paced, entertaining narrative.
The Pale Door is available in theaters, VOD, and digitally August 21, 2020.
Beyond ‘The Pale Door’ lies a bloody standoff of witches vs outlaws