An elegant little Showtime telefilm is saddled with a truly unfortunate name: Behind the Red Door.
The name may remind some Baby Boomer viewers of an early porn film and confuse them into thinking this is a salacious slice of the premium service's sexually-oriented programming. In reality, it is a thoughtful piece about love and emotional resurrection, with an Emmy-worthy performance by Kiefer Sutherland (24). It could have been a commonplace weeper about the ravages of AIDS, but it's seasoned by a complicated family dynamic, as well as a bit of a mystery.
Natalie (Kyra Sedgwick) is an emotionally closed photographer, brilliant in her work but determined to keep that to herself. A conniving friend, Julia (Stockard Channing) gets impoverished Natalie a job shooting an advertising campaign with a swank agency in Boston. But it turns out that Natalie will be working for Roy (Sutherland) — her estranged brother.
Natalie tries to bolt, but is bullied into staying. These are the first hints of the true sibling bond: Why would Natalie put up with the rude demands of her brother? Slams that should draw a glass of wine to the face elicit cowering solicitude from Natalie.
Then, the coup de grace: Roy tells his sister he has AIDS, and demands that she give up her life to take care of him. Again, in the face of his selfishness, she demurs. That's when the relationship begins to open like a flower as we learn of their painful childhood at the hands of an abusive father, and their suspicions about the nature of their mother's death.
We begin to wonder, who is sicker? Is it Roy, with his terminal affliction, or Natalie, with her dead heart?
In the process, we learn the genesis of the awful movie name. The pair, as children, clung to a story which promised that the kingdom of joy is protected from all evil by a red door. We watch as Natalie, despite her impending loss, reconnects with the joy she sheltered and shared with Roy — alone, behind that "door" — for all those years.
Behind the Red Door
debuts on Showtime on Jan. 12 at 8 p.m. EST/PST.