Recently, I had the pleasure of sitting down with Nicholas McCarthy before the premiere of his second feature At The Devil’s Door to talk about his debut film The Pact, the craft of storytelling and the casting for his latest project.

In 2011 The Pact screened at Fantasia leaving me unsettled and creeped out for many months.

“When I premiered The Pact short, I hadn’t even a glimmer of what it could be,” McCarthy explained. “I think between when I first sat down to write it, it was 40-something weeks ’til when it was finished.”

One of the greatest strengths of The Pact are the stories that are left untold, and the moments left unseen.


“The kind of gamesmanship in The Pact feature was about not showing some things and showing others,” McCarthy said. “When you look at Hitchcock, you see a film like Frenzy and The Birds and you realize that he probably [wanted] to show horrific things but it was censorship and the times that prevented him. Or maybe [it could have been] his own British morality. That’s not to say that that made him a worse filmmaker, it probably made him a better filmmaker.”

McCarthy found inspiration in short fiction such as Raymond Carver and John Cleever’s short stories along with the curious question of endings. He found formal inspiration in this for both the short and feature versions of The Pact as well as for At The Devil’s Door

“It’s all about kind of following down these trajectories, these hallways, and then you come to a wall and you don’t know where you are going to go and then you go where you never had thought you were going to go,” he said.

After The Pact premiered at Sundance and went on to be successful, McCarthy found himself in new territory.

“I was in a position for the very first time in my life of meeting people who wanted to make movies with me, which is a thing that I, of course, had wanted my whole life,” he said.

Although he was advised to adopt the safe route towards lining up to make a studio film, McCarthy chose a different path.

“For me, the cinema was the thing that brought me to this point in my life,” he said. “What I really wanted to do was to make another movie with my core crew. And to make it a film that I necessarily hadn’t felt like I had seen before […] I told myself that I shouldn’t be afraid  to fail instead of taking that path that in some ways one is expected to follow in Hollywood, which is to find a series of sure things.”

McCarthy retreated to a cabin in the woods to write his second feature. He began with the “obsessive dramatic structure” that he had begun exploring in The Pact about sisters. Along with this, an incident fueled his creative well. While at Sundance, a cab driver, prompted by the title of McCathy’s debut film, shared in detail with the director about how he had made a pact with the devil and sold his soul.

“I was sitting idling in front of the condo listening to this and I realized that this was a story that would make a really great scene in a movie and so that became something else that I was working on,” he said. “And that really was the genesis of this movie. I was just organically trying to find things that meant something to me and that I couldn’t exactly put my finger on why. I just wanted to weave something that felt unexpected to me.”

At The Devil’s Door has the uniqueness of starring three leading women. McCarthy shared that he enjoys casting and finds it an important part of directing a film in terms of learning to communicate the ideas that will be most important in the film.

“We decided on the role of Leigh first just because she sort of dominates one section of the film,” McCarthy mapped out. “The very first name that came up was Catalina Sandino Moreno (Maria Full of Grace) […] I met her and I realized that she has this really interesting poise, she’s very beautiful, and she has this kind of distance that’s really, really intriguing. It’s really what I wanted for this character that is in some ways a contrary sort of impulse for a lead. I knew frankly that maybe it would be something that would turn some people off.”

Next, McCarthy had to cast Lee’s sister. Although McCarthy had not seen Naya Rivera in her starring role in Glee, his editor highly recommended he meet her.


“I just knew as soon as she walked through the door that she’s gonna play this part,” he said. “It’s a very similar role in some ways to Caity Lotz’ in The Pact: a lot of pantomime, it’s a lot of walking through dark hallways and reading her face. The character needed to have a certain toughness that you can’t act. Naya has that.”

Last but not least, McCarthy and his team cast the third lead. As with Rivera, McCarthy had not seen Ashley Rickards (Awkward) in her current role playing a teenager on television. McCarthy was drawn to Rickards for her performance in Fly Away where she played someone severely autistic.

“So I wanted to meet her and it was clear from meeting her that she was going to jump into this thing without any hesitation and she was really, really excited. Her role is the most kind of extreme in this film,” McCarthy said.

Keep an eye out for At The Devil’s Door for — fingers crossed — a wide release. Although not as strong as McCarthy’s debut, At the Devil’s Door is a film that doesn’t shy away from trying unconventional narrative structures, exploring the meaning of home and will have you jumping out of your seat (literally, I dropped my popcorn). Added bonus for fans of Naya Rivera and Ashley Rickards who will find thrills in seeing these two actors out of high school, on the big screen and in altogether darker and more sinister circumstances.

Fantasia is upon us. If you are anything like me and the fans that flock to theatres for this one of a kind experience, your summer can finally begin. The lineup this year is stellar which makes choosing which films to see that much more difficult. Screening decision anxiety and panic is amongst us. Never fear! Take out your colour-coded pens, rulers and notebooks; here are the must-sees of the 2014 lineup!

15.  Metalhead


Director: Ragnar Bragson

Writer: Ragnar Bragson

Iceland, 2013

Metalhead touches on themes of tragedy, grief, youth, faith and fate. Hera lives in a small town with little to offer her and is haunted by the death of her brother. She rebels against the bourgeois world of her parents and creates a safe haven for herself in the world of heavy metal: a world that she slips further into body and soul.

Screenings: Monday, August 4 at 7:10 p.m. and Tuesday, August 5 at 7:35 p.m at Salle J.A. De Sève (1400 de Maisonneuve w.).


14. The House at the End of Time (La casa del fin de los tiempos)


Director: Alejandro Hidalgo

Writer: Alejandro Hidalgo

Venezuela, 2013

Dulce receives ghostlike messages warning her of her husband murdering his own children. Panic ensues as do tragic events and Dulce is incarcerated for a crime she didn’t commit. Thirteen years later, on parole, Dulce must stay within the house where all these tragic events happened. Fantasia programmer Mitch Davis hails this tale as both scary and touching: not your typical haunted house story.

Screenings: Saturday, July 26 at 9:30 p.m. at Theatre DB Clarke and Wednesday, July 30 at 5:20 p.m. at Salle J.A. De Sève.


13. Feed the Devil


Director: Max Perrier

Writer: Matthew Altman

Canada, 2014

The world premiere of Feed the Devil is co-presented by the Montreal First Peoples Festival. This film follows Marcus, who is in dire need of some fast cash, as he, his sister and his girlfriend search for a marijuana plantation rumoured to be near a First Nations reserve. According to legend, this plantation is smack in the middle of a hunting ground for the gods, where no human is to enter and no human who has dared to enter has ever returned.

Screening: Monday, August 4 at 8:30 p.m. at Cinémathèque québécoise (335 de Maisonneuve e.).
* Tickets for this film will not be available through Fantasia’s ticket outlets and Fantasia passes are not valid for this film. Visit Montreal First Peoples Festival for more info.


12. The Snow White Murder Case


Director Yoshihhiro Nakamura

Writers: Tamio Hayashi, Kamae Minato

Japan, 2014

When a young office worker’s body is found, social media is quick to make the news viral. A television director soon comes into some juicy intel and realizes that this sensational case might be the perfect way to break through in the industry. He begins to to investigate the case, accounts multiply and cloud the waters: who killed Noriko?

Screening: Tuesday, July 29 at 10 p.m. at Concordia Hall Theatre.


11. Cybernatural


Director: Leo Gabriadze

Writer: Nelson Greaves

USA, 2014

After a humiliating video is posted online by her friends, a young girl kills herself. On the anniversary of her death, the six cyberbullies meet up on Skype. However, an uninvited seventh user joins the conversation and seems to know everything about the crime. As events unfold in real time, the six cyberbullies get a taste of their own medicine and the body count soon begins to rise.

Screening: Sunday, July 20 at 9:30 p.m. at DB Clarke Theatre.


10. The Creeping Garden


Directors: Tim Grabham, Jasper Sharp

United Kingdom, 2014

This documentary centres on something all around us but almost everyone is unaware of it: plasmodial slime mold. Slime mold is not plant, not fungus, nor animal but a strange hodge-podge of all three. It even exhibits forms of intelligence. The Creeping Garden explores this uncanny organism through interviews and microscopic photography and boasts a score by Jim O’Rourke.

Screenings: Sunday, July 27 at 9:45 p.m. & Monday, July 28 at 3 p.m. at Salle J.A. De Sève.


9. Life After Beth


Director: Jeff Baena

Writer: Jeff Baena

USA, 2014

This comedy follows Zack who falls to pieces after the death of Beth, his longtime sweetheart. Zack grows closer to Beth’s parents in the wake of her death until they suddenly shut him out. For, you see, Beth has come back from the grave and doesn’t realize she’s died. Zack is overjoyed… but for how long?

Screening: Saturday, July 19 at 7:15 p.m. at Concordia Hall Theatre.


8. At The Devil’s Door 

Director: Nick McCarthy

Screenplay: Nick McCarthy

USA, 2014

From the writer of The Pact, a film that left audiences with an unshakeable chill, comes this tale of a real estate agent (Catalina Sandino Moreno) who faces the task of trying to sell a house with a sordid past. The film stars names you will recognize such as Naya Ricera (Glee) and Ashley Rockwards (Awkward). I can’t wait to see them in something out of high school and into a more dark and dangerous setting.

Screenings: Saturday, July 26 at 7 p.m. at DB Clarke Theatre & Tuesday, July 29 at 5:10 p.m. at Salle J.A. De Sève.


7. Honeymoon


Director:  Leigh Janiak

Screenplay: Leigh Janiak , Phil Graziadei

USA, 2014

Honeymoon is a cabin-set flick that refuses to rely on traditional scares. Paul and Bea are on their honeymoon but things aren’t quite the bliss that you’d expect. The central questions in this film are “who did I marry?” and “am I enough?”

Screenings: Tuesday, July 22 at 7 p.m. at DB Clarke Theatre.


6. Jellyfish Eyes (Mememe no Kurage)


Director: Takashi Murakami

Screenplay: Takashi Murakami, Jun Tsugita

Japan, 2013

There is a lot of excitement brewing around the sci-fi/fantasy epic Jellyfish Eyes sponsored by The Japanese Foundation at this year’s Fantasia. Masashi’s father was lost in the earthquake and tsunami of 2011 resulting in his mother relocating them to a small town, near a university research center. Masashi finds a little flying creature and soon discovers that all the others kids at school have secret creature buddies who — unlike his pink bud, Jellyfish Boy — are controlled by their smartphones. But all isn’t honky dory in this town and something dark is brewing…

Screenings: Sunday, July 20 at 12 p.m. at Concordia Hall Theatre.


5. Housebound


Director: Gerard Johnstone

Screenplay: Gerard Johnstone

New Zealand, 2014

Kylie is on house arrest in the home where she grew up where she is forced to live with her mother and her mother’s boyfriend. Like Kylie, an angry spirit is also displeased with the new living arrangement. But like it or not, Kylie is gonna have to do the time — even if it’s in a haunted house.

Screening: Sunday, August 3 at 9:45 p.m. at Concordia Hall Theatre.


4. The Harvest


Director: John McNaughton

Screenplay: Stephen Lancelloti

USA, 2013

When Andy gets sick, his pediatric heart surgeon mother, Katherine, has to start working from home. When a neighbourhood girl begins to befriend Andy, his parents — whose universes have centred around him and his illness — react in a strange way. According to Mitch Davis, “The Harvest exists in a disquieting median space between sinister fairy tale and shattering human horror.” And if that’s not enough, The Harvest promises what looks like a kick-ass performance by Samantha Morton.

Screening: Monday, July 21 at 9:30 p.m. at Theatre DB Clarke.


3. The Midnight Swim


Director: Sarah Adina Smith

Screenplay: Sarah Adina Smith

USA, 2014

The Midnight Swim is one of the most intriguing films of this year’s program. Dr. Amelia Brooks studied the mysteries of bottomless Spirit Lake, which became the site of her death when she didn’t resurface after a dive. Her three daughters head to Spirit Lake to reflect on their relationships with their mother and return to their family home. The sisters begin to believe that something supernatural is at hand after they jokingly summon the spirits of women who have drowned in the lake.

Screening: Sunday, July 27 at 7:30 p.m. at DB Clarke Theatre.


2. Suburban Gothic


Director: Richard Bates, Jr.

Screenplay: Mark Linehan Bruner, Richard Bates Jr.

USA, 2014

Suburban Gothic is the second feature by Richard Bates Jr., director of the bloody and breathtaking Excision. The film follows Raymond (Matthew Gray Grubler) who, like many of us in Montreal, can’t find a job with his college degree and has to move back in with his parents. Raymond has had visions for most of his life and joining with local bartender Becca (played by the amazing Kat Dennings) things go in unexpected ways. According to Ted Geoghegan, “Suburban Gothic is popcorn cinema at its most endearing — a saccharine ghost story featuring a faultless mix of honest scares and well-played humour.”

Screening: Saturday, July 19 at 9:45 p.m. at Concordia Hall Theatre.

1. Frank 


Director: Lenny Abrahamson

Screenplay: Jon Ronson, Peter Straughan

United Kingdom, 2014

Official selection at Sundance 2014, Frank stars Michael Fassbender as Frank, the frontman of a band who swears by a giant plaster cartoon head that he never takes off. The film follows Jon who meets Frank and his strange lineup of bandmates and follows them down a strange musical odyssey to the SXSW festival in Texas.

Screenings: Sunday, August 3 at 4:20 p.m. at Concordia Hall Theatre & Monday, August 4 at 5:15 p.m. at Salle J.A. De Sève.


Honourable mentions:

Man in the Orange Jacket, Aux Yeux Des Vivants, Prom Night, Dys-, Wetlands, When Animals Dream, To Be Takei, and Summer of Blood


The 2014 edition of Fantasia runs from July 17 to August 6.