According to IMDb, African-American writer-director Kennedy Goldsby has five feature films to his credit, but in reality, he has four. You see, 2011’s The Trap Door and 2015’s Death’s Door are in fact the same movie. Having suffered through both, I know. This isn’t some kind of Exorcist: The Beginning deal in which a bunch of new footage was shot to turn one film into another, legitimately different product worthy of a new title. No, the only difference I can tell between these two is that Goldsby shifted about four minutes of exposition from the beginning of The Trap Door to near the end of Death’s Door — presumably to heighten the sense of mystery, although the end result is to take an incoherent mystery and make it even more confusing.
The story finds a group of 20-somethings (or in the case of Chico Benymon of Half & Half fame, late 30-something) who receive a mysterious text from an unknown sender inviting them to a spooky house for a party. And of course they all show up; what could possibly go wrong?
They’re greeted (and by “greeted,” I mean glared at silently) by Jomo (genre mainstay Tommy “Tiny” Lister), a scarred giant of a man in a black Satanic robe whose presence doesn’t immediately signal trouble to the dimwitted guests. Before they know it, they find themselves locked inside in one of those supernatural revenge scenarios that only appear in horror movies.
For no discernible reason, the revenge — courtesy of the spirit of 1930s magician Mesmer the Magnificent (Obba Babatunde), who remains ethereal (again, for no discernible reason), unlike his also-dead assistant Jomo — is drawn out for the entire movie, as the partygoers spend their time trying every door in the house, yelling at each other, getting tired, lounging, falling asleep, having hallucinations with terrible CGI, trying some more doors, yelling again, lounging some more, staring off into the distance and maybe trying another door or two. For the longest time, it seems like Mesmer’s end game is to serve cold cuts and bore them to death.
Unfortunately for viewers, veteran Babatunde appears on screen for less than five minutes, and Lister isn’t around for much longer. Even the great Keith David is wasted, as he’s limited to voiceover duty.
The younger cast members are thus left to carry the film, and Benymon is the only one who doesn’t act in over-the-top histrionics (because his role is that of the almost equally annoying skeptic who refuses to believe anything he sees is real). Granted, the script, which seems to require every person to take turns shouting a line in each scene, doesn’t allow for much subtlety. The female characters in particular are embarrassingly helpless clichés, shrieking at everything from locked doors to shadows to spiderwebs.
How ridiculous are these people? Benymon’s character, Bruce, attempts to prove that a blood stain they find isn’t real by TASTING IT. After doing so, he hypothesizes it’s animal blood…which makes tasting it appropriate??? Later, another guy, Dean, fears Jomo is leading them into a trap, so he suggests to his pregnant girlfriend that she stay behind. When she balks at being left alone in a locked room by herself, his solution — instead of staying with her — is to PUNCH HER IN THE FACE, presumably to knock her unconscious so she’ll stay put and not as punishment for back-talking.
Needless to say, there’s no one to root for amongst this avalanche of immoral, irrational idiocy. Even Mesmer, whose vengeance could be deemed just (and whose death, chained and burned to death by two white people in the 1930s, could’ve been ripe with racial connotations in a more literate script), comes off as a jackass, because it’s revealed that he long ago got his revenge on those who wronged him, so why is he spending the afterlife throwing stupid trap parties? Just go to the light already.