The Other Side of the Door stars Sarah Wayne Callies (The Walking Dead) and Jeremy Sisto (Suburgatory) as Maria and Michael, an American expatriate couple living in Mumbai, India with their young daughter Lucy (Sofia Rosinsky) and trying to get over the death of their young son Oliver. But when their Indian housekeeper Piki (Suchitra Pillai-Malik) offers a distraught, near-suicidal Maria a chance to communicate with Oliver one more time – by visiting an abandoned, ancient temple where the spirits of the dead are said to linger – the grieving mother opens a door through which a malevolent entity threatens to enter our world and destroy them all.
Director Johannes Roberts (Storage 24) and the cast capture the frantic energy, strangeness and beauty of Mumbai (where the movie was actually filmed) while channeling the mysticism and folklore of the culture in a unique and dread-inducing manner. Screen Rant spoke with Roberts and Callies about all that and why Roberts is known as “your highness.”
We haven’t seen a lot of Hollywood horror movies set in India before. Johannes, what appealed to you about doing this story in this setting?
Johannes Roberts: I think it was fresh ground to explore and put a character in. What I loved is how alienating it was. I think you really feel that throughout the movie, is dropping Sarah — or Maria, the character — into this world. And everything that’s great about Mumbai — and Mumbai is cool, it’s crazy, it’s bonkers and it’s so noisy and chaotic and beautiful. Then when everything goes bad, it’s the worst. It’s the worst. It’s noisy, it’s chaotic, and that, when you’ve just lost a child, I just thought, “Oh my lord, that’s gonna be just a horrendous place to be.”
And then there was just so much to draw on. For a western audience, it’s a great, new, scary sort of plateau. Plateau? No, that’s not the right word at all.
Sarah Wayne Callies: Plain?
Roberts: Plain. Sort of — canvas! Canvas.
You’re talking about a culture that’s thousands of years old, so there’s this rich mythology and religious background so I think obviously there’s a lot there that can lend itself to the supernatural.
Callies: One of the things that I think is so interesting about this movie is that part of what goes wrong in the film is that Maria, as a white outsider who grew up in the United States, decides to engage with that thousand-year-old history and mysticism and completely blows it, because she doesn’t know what she’s doing and because it’s not endemic to who she is and because she’s kind of cherry-picking from it for her own purposes without any kind of legitimate devotion. And that’s interesting to me — in a way this is a cautionary tale against waking up one day and “deciding” to be Buddhist, you know? These things come with a history and they come with a culture and the way to do is not to pick a ritual and haul off to a temple.
Sarah, when you go to far-flung locales — and you’ve worked in places like Nigeria as well — what sort of impact does it have on you as an artist?
Callies: You know, it’s interesting. It takes me in two opposite directions. One is obviously the trappings of the place that are so different — you know, the food is different or language or visually things are different. People have different ideas about modesty or language or all kinds of things like that. But then you get through that and around the other side, you get back to that — and I’m gonna quote The Muppets Take Manhattan here — “peoples is peoples.” You know what I mean? You get around the other side and you realize that we all bleed red, we all breathe air, we all have beating hearts and families.
I’ve never been anyplace that was so different that I didn’t feel a connection, just from one human being to the other. And I find that really — it’s one of the things I love most about traveling. The more different somebody is, you can still find that thing that connects you to them as a person. I think that’s amazing.
Speaking of cultural communication, tell me the story you mentioned about pronouncing Johannes’ name.
Callies: Okay, so, we have a Brit (indicating Roberts) in India with some American cast as well, which is already like a whole history of imperialism and wars and stuff. Skipping that, the crew — many of whom did not speak English — they heard us calling him Johannes, and assumed that we were calling him “your highness.” And so for a while, a bunch of the crew thought that Johannes insisted on being referred to as though he was a monarch, which was amazing.
Roberts: The first I knew about it was in the lunch queue, and they literally stepped aside —
Callies: (gesturing) Go ahead, your highness!
Roberts: And I was like, “Oh, thanks.” And then it was like, “Are you…? Is this…?” My assistant now still calls me “your highness.”
Callies: And you’re very, you do command such a regal presence in your flip-flops and shorts. It’s amazing.
You should use that in every film from now on.
Roberts: I should, yeah!
Callies: “A film by Your Highness Roberts.”
Roberts: “Your Highness Roberts,” I like that, yeah.
The Other Side of the Door opens in theaters March 4, 2016.