Iron Doors (2010) Iron Doors (2010) **

     Oh wow, you guys… I kind of want to forego reviewing Iron Doors in any ordinary way, and just tell you all to trust me and go watch it. If I did that, though, it would be the last time any of you trusted me about anything ever again. It isn’t that Iron Doors is such a bad movie. Indeed, for most of its length, it’s decent-verging-on-good if you go in for the whole post-Saw Captivity & Torment thing. But Iron Doors concludes with such an audacious act of bed-shitting that I can recommend it only from the standpoint of morbid curiosity.

     It’s 9:00 in the morning on April Fool’s Day, and a guy whom the closing credits (and only the closing credits) identify as Mark (Axel Wedekind) awakens after a weekend bender for the ages to find himself in what appears to be a disused bank vault. Or at any rate, it looks mostly disused; somebody’s paying the electric bills, if the fluorescent lighting fixtures suspended from the ceiling are any indication, so it can’t be totally abandoned. Mark is alone, and the only objects in the vault with him, so far as he can see, are a dead rat and a padlocked locker with something heavy inside it. At first, he assumes it’s an elaborate prank being played on him by somebody named Fletcher, but as the hours of his confinement wear on, it gradually dawns on him that this is something far more serious. Unless there’s food and drink in that locker, the only source of water in the vault is Mark’s own bladder, and all there is to eat is the aforementioned rat and the flies busily laying eggs all over it (although there’ll presumably be maggots, too, within a day or so). Furthermore, the vault is apparently pretty close to airtight, and there’s no telling how much of the oxygen within it Mark already used up while he was passed out. Unless somebody comes to release him, there’s every possibility that Mark could die in that concrete box!

     Mark wastes an entire day alternately raging and feeling sorry for himself. But then in one of those rages, he happens to jump up to punch one of the overhead light fixtures, and hears something rattle around inside it. It’s a key— a key just the right size to fit the padlock on the locker! Mark doesn’t need recorded instructions from the Jigsaw Killer to recognize what he has to do now. He bashes at the lamp until it shatters to release the key, then opens up the locker to discover a hammer, a chisel, a wrench, a blowtorch and striker, and one tank each of acetylene and compressed oxygen. Maybe Mark will survive this ordeal after all. None of those tools make any impression on the door to the vault, but when Mark demolishes the locker in his next temper tantrum, the way the bolts holding it to the wall pull free gives him an idea. The chisel may barely scratch the door, but it punches through concrete quite nicely. The purpose of the torch reveals itself several hours later, when Mark reaches the lattice of steel rebar at the center of the wall.

     Hacking out a hole big enough to crawl through takes most of the second day, and the energy cost of all that labor forces Mark to acquire a taste for maggot. (The larvae are easier to catch than the adult flies, and they’re considerably fresher than the rat itself. Clearly Mark is learning to think strategically.) He’s dismayed to discover, though, that what’s on the other side of the wall is merely another vault. This one is furnished differently from the other, however, with a pair of household lamps and a coffin, of all things. You’ll never believe what’s in the coffin, either. It’s an African girl (Rungano Nyoni), dressed as if she hails from someplace in the Sahel— Mali, maybe, or Niger or Sudan. The credits say her name is Deka, but Mark has no way of learning that, because she doesn’t speak a word of English. So for his next trick, Mark must find a way to communicate with this girl, convincing her first that he isn’t the one who shut her up in a coffin inside a locked vault, and then that she has to help him if either one of them is going to make it out alive. He succeeds eventually, and together they solve the puzzles of both the second vault and the third that lies beyond it. It’s what happens when they beat Vault #3, though, that led me to call bullshit on this entire enterprise.

     On, no— I’m not going to tell you what that concluding affront is. In the admittedly unlikely event that you might one day watch Iron Doors for yourself, you deserve the chance to be as totally out-of-nowhere gobsmacked by it as I was, and I’ve said too much as it is. But having already let on that the bag has a cat in it, I suppose it’s safe to drop a few very general hints as to the breed. What makes the concluding revelation such a stunner is that it not only fails to answer any of the questions you’ll have been stockpiling since the opening scene, but goes so far as to add to them countless more that you would never have thought to ask. Even Mark is dumbfounded, and when he find his tongue at last— “That’s not what I expected”— he speaks as much for the audience as for himself.

     Until that final door opens, however, Iron Doors is a creditable example of its subgenre. Those who are put off by the grisliness of most Captivity & Torment movies may be reassured that the tortures Mark and Deka suffer are strictly a matter of deprivation rather than direct bodily assault. There are no Headsmash-o-Matics here, nor is anyone ever forced to saw off their own appendages. Indeed, one gets the impression after a while that the protagonists’ unseen captors genuinely want them to survive, despite the high potential lethality of the setup. And speaking of those captors, it also does interesting things to the psychological dynamics of the story once it becomes evident that Mark and Deka’s ordeal is going to play all the way out without any normal communication between them and whoever locked them in those vaults. They’re left to their own devices not only in figuring out how to survive, but even in discerning any purpose behind their puzzle-box imprisonment. Axel Wedekind and Rungano Nyoni faced an unusual acting challenge here, too, with no onscreen antagonists to play off of, and no capacity for conversation between their characters. Their situation is a bit like the starting point of a Robinson Crusoe or Hell in the Pacific scenario, but the compressed timeline of Iron Doors is such that Mark and Deka never have a chance to develop more than the most rudimentary ways of making themselves understood to each other. Stiff constraints all around, then, for a horror film or even a psychological thriller: no gore, no body count, no personalized villain— not even a common language between the characters. It’s extremely impressive, given all those self-imposed limitations, that Iron Doors works as well as it does for as long as it does. Such a pity about that ridiculous ending…



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