Reviewed by Patrick Cooper
“Trapped in a box” movies are inherently fun. Even if the characters aren’t all that interesting, it’s still entertaining to try to figure a way out before they can. Then we feel stupid when that “oh shit” curveball hits us in the face. Sometimes the ending doesn’t satisfy (I love Cube but hate the end), but at least the ride there was nice. One recent example that a lot of people seemed to like was Buried, which I thought was a 90-minute wank-a-thon. Being trapped in a coffin with Ryan Reynolds for an entire movie is not cool.
Stephen Manuel’s Iron Doors is a thoroughly enjoyable addition to the genre. Like most of its kind, the premise is simple: A man (Axel Wedekind) wakes up alone in a room. The only way out seems to be a huge, iron vault door. Inside the room is a dead rat infested with maggots, a locker, a blowtorch, and a chisel and hammer. He has no idea how he got there – his first impression is that it’s his work buddies playing an elaborate prank on him. The last thing he remembers is going out drinking with his boys – then he blacked out and woke up in this room. I’ve been there, bro.
We spend every second with Axel as he curses (a lot), drinks urine, eats maggots, and gradually deteriorates physically and mentally. Luckily, nearly every second is compelling and Axel is a strong enough actor to carry the entire thing. At first he comes off as some kind of douchebag investment banker type, but as the movie progressed I grew to like him. He talks to himself a lot and through this continuous one-way conversation he reveals himself to be a regular, foul-mouthed everyman.
A lot of focus is put on the whole piss drinking and maggot eating parts. It’s gross the first time Axel does it, then every other time is just plain gratuitous. It happens maybe three times in the movie and forces the suspense to come to a screeching halt. The entire film takes place in essentially three connected rooms. The filmmakers made the most of it – filming from every angle you can imagine and using minimal lighting with precision.
The mystery of why he’s there isn’t revealed until the final seconds of the film. Even then, it’s not really explained. It’s an ambiguous shot that leaves it up to the audience to fill in the blanks. I found the ending pretty damn weak and somewhat corny. Axel, who by the end is on the cusp of dying of starvation, definitely earned this ending, but I felt like the audience deserved something meatier.
But like I said earlier, endings are allowed to suck in this subgenre as long as the ride there was fun. Iron Doors is definitely an enjoyable, psychologically thrilling trip. Axel Wedekind is a capable actor, so you won’t mind being locked in a room with him for 90 minutes. Although the ending probably won’t blow anyone’s mind, it’s a well-crafted, claustrophobic blast up to that point.
Iron Doors is presented by Jing Films in 1.78:1 widescreen. It looks fine for a DVD; the only problem was that the audio didn’t match up. I tried both audio tracks and neither did, which was horribly distracting. I saw online that other people had this problem, so someone made a major goof at the factory.
Just a trailer.