DIRECTED BY: Stephen Manuel
FEATURING: Axel Wedekind, Rungano Nyoni
PLOT: A man wakes up to find himself locked in a concrete vault sealed with iron doors; he hopes the key to his escape lies inside the padlocked locker that, besides a dead rat, is the room’s only furnishing.
WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: It’s a well-made independent film heavily influenced by fantastical survival movies like Cube and Saw; while it is interesting, it languishes in the shadow of its superior predecessors.
COMMENTS: Iron Doors asks the gross, but mesmerizing, question: if you were locked inside of a concrete room for days with no hope of escape, how long would it take before you started drinking your own urine and eating maggots to survive? This is the situation a nameless man finds himself in when he wakes up with a hangover in a concrete vault, assuming he’s the victim of a prank. But as the hours pass and no one answers his calls from help—and the iron doors locking him in refuse to budge—he will be forced to draw on all of his ingenuity and will to survive. Part of a mini-genre of “people abducted and held in mysterious bondage” movies that includes Cube, Saw, the first act of Oldboy, Iron Doors is ably acted by Axel Wedekind, who rants and raves at his fate before settling down to the business of devising a seemingly impossible escape. The early reels are surprisingly involving. The purgatorial gray stone and steel of the bunker, flickering in fluorescent lights, provides an oppressive and claustrophobic atmosphere, but director Manuel finds ways to add splashes of color for excitement, and the film doesn’t look dour or cold at all. Just as the script seems to have run out of survivalist tropes to mine for life-and-death drama, a surprise development in the second act gives it fresh new dynamics to explore. So far, so good; Iron Doors manages to involve us in its high stakes and mystery through the first hour of its brisk eighty minutes. The big problem is, not surprisingly, the ending. Having built up such a sense of baffling mystery, its almost certain that the resolution will be a letdown. Without giving away the secret, we can safely say that most viewers have found the ending disappointing. The filmmakers intend an allegorical reading, which is fine, but mildly ambiguous denouement doesn’t satisfy. It neither magnifies the mystery, nor provides a plot-hole free logical solution; it instead splits the difference between a mystical and a rational explanation, satisfying no one. Furthermore, the end comes on too abruptly, without a properly tense buildup, and the final shot snaps off quickly before we can process it. Despite the lack of a final killing blow, however, Iron Doors is still a fine and worthy independent effort that deserves neither its current obscurity nor its unconscionably low IMDB rating of 4.5. The principals involved here all show talent and I look forward to seeing them in future projects.
Iron Doors was made in Germany by an Irish-born director, but the main character speaks perfect English and appears to be American. The film was originally shot and presented in 3-D. This gimmick didn’t go over well with those who saw it at film festivals, who frequently complained that the stereoscopic effects were pointless given Iron Doors‘ minimalist setting. The DVD version looks just fine on a flat screen.
WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:
“…appears to have a lot to say but is very ambiguous about its message and intent. The twist conclusion only baffles the film further and, perhaps, for the better.”—Doc Rotten, Horror News (contemporaneous)