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The Portable Door 2023 Movie Review
Stan’s The Portable Door, a largely Australian production starring internationally recognisable faces, is fine fantasy fare.
Our young, plucky ‘wizard’s apprentice’ is Paul Carpenter – played by the OA‘s Patrick Gibson. In a world much like modern day London, he is clumsy, broke, and desperate for a job. He shares many qualities with the classic Magical Anime Girl: bright eyed, bushy tailed, and perpetually late. All he needs is a bit of toast in his mouth as he runs to school (or in this case, a coffee shop interview). After a dog leads him into a mysterious alleyway, Paul is swept into a world of telepathy, magic doors, and goblins.
Well, not before overcoming my worst nightmare: interviewing for a job he knows nothing about while Christoph Waltz scrutinises him with his piercing eyes.
After somehow charming an interview panel consisting of Waltz, Sam Neill, Miranda Otto, Rachel House, and Chris Pang, Paul is given an internship at the J.W. Wells & Co. offices. There he shares an office with Sophie Pettingel (Sophie Wilde), a stand-offish high achiever who knows as much about the goings-on of the company as Paul does. That is to say, nothing.
Paul’s new magical job is to read maps. Yep, that’s it. And he apparently has no say in the matter, nor any desire to do anything else. What is his motivation to stay and not get the least bit argumentative about it? Without this being made clear, the story falls flat to low-stakes plotting. It’s not until the third act that things pick up, all thanks to some good ol’ romance being thrown in.
The comment on modern day bureaucracy is obvious. While the young interns try to navigate their new workplace, one of them utters a line along the lines of ‘do you ever think you’re not built for this work-rent-bills-bus thing?’ In that moment I screamed YES at the screen, frightening my cat. So yes, despite the implausible plot involving goblin uprisings and disappearing doors, the film is relatable. The endless rows of carbon copy offices, the typewriters, the pneumatic tubes, the men in suits, it’s Kafka meets Brazil meets … well, real-world companies.
While we’re on pneumatic tubes, I thought the look of the film’s production and feel of the sound design worked very well. The Henson Company involvement becomes apparent when baby dragons begin to appear out of nowhere, and Paul finds a room full of animated eyeballs in jars. Its budget has obviously been well-spent, leading to a slick, immersive appearance that almost hides the dated narrative tropes.
There’s even a few nods to the fact that The Portable Door was filmed in Australia – including a map of Arnhem Land that Paul is working on. But again, because it takes him so long to figure out what he is looking for, the tension is completely lost on the audience.