The Room

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Weirdo sci-fi The Room has plot to spare and every time it feels like it’s about to hit a dead end of genre familiarity, the cul de sac reveals itself to be a road to somewhere else.

The first “dead end” comes early on. After a boastful credit sequence during which much has been made of the fact that this is an “original idea by Christian Volckman”, with “written by” input by blah, and “collaboration and dialogs” by blah and blah, a strangely familiar story appears to get going.

A couple who have moved out of the city and bought a doer-upper in upstate New York. They unload boxes, they throw old furniture out, they have an impromptu meal on the floor in front of a crackling log fire the first night they’re there.

The electrics are on the blink and so they call in a local electrician. Don’t you know what happened here, he semi-cackles, after giving up on wiring too tangled and profuse for mortal tradespeople. They do not. Didn’t you know the previous owners died in the house? Duh duh duuuuh.

All that “original idea by” stuff suddenly looks either like mad hubris or a cinematic joke. This is The Amityville Horror, surely? Nice young couple go increasingly mad in their big spooky house haunted by the residue of a terrible event?

And then Matt discovers the hidden room that every house like this has. Except this one can grant him his every wish – a bottle of brandy at first, but by the morning he has a Cézanne, a Van Gogh and the Mona Lisa to show wife Kate, who of course doesn’t believe him, until she asks for and gets a thousand dollars, then asks for a million and gets that.

I have a bad feeling, she says. Let’s just enjoy it, he says. Cue a montage sequence of two good-looking people enjoying it – champagne, fine clothes, caviar and… some paprika-dusted snacks (bizarre touch) – until, finally, Kate decides to see if the room, or The Room, will fulfil her wish to have a baby.

Shane doing dark things in the room
What happens when Shane finds the room?

It does. Here endeth one film and beginneth another, in which biblical comeuppance will eventually be served at the end of sinuous story in which the couple discover that there is a kick in the tale: their newly acquired stuff will age into dust the moment it leaves the house, and a scintilla’s exposure of the new baby to the outside will do something similar to the baby, at first ageing him from infant to somewhere around nine/ten, on second exposure to a strapping (and angrily muscular) teenager.

That’s enough plot, because this is a film about plot. It heads off in one direction, surely heading for a brick wall, only to confound with a sharp turn, some of them more confounding than others, but the totality is an engaging story of the “where the hell is going?” sort.

Olga Kurylenko and Kevin Janssens are the couple, with Joshua Wilson as the young Shane (their child), Francis Chapman as the older Shane, and all are plausible, within the confines of this impossible story. Kurylenko, never the world’s greatest actress, has learned to react rather than act, so she’s vastly better than she used to be. Janssens was good at the acting thing already, as you’ll know if you’ve seen the film Patrick, made the same year (and in which he was massively heavier – how the hell did he do that?).

It’s the first feature film by Volckman since 2006’s hyper-stylised black-and-white animated thriller Renaissance and has nothing in common with it, except that both spring from high concepts. The Room’s is better worked through and, more interestingly, does seem prepared to pursue a storyline into whichever odd corner it wants to wander.

If great horror deals with subjects that spook us or are taboo, The Room isn’t really going there, and a late suggestion that this is really all about the child gaining control over the parents doesn’t quite cut it. But it is a fine genre piece that’s very well put together, well acted and darkly good looking. And the twists keep coming so that whenever all that competence seems like not quite enough, suddenly it turns out that’s not the only show in town.

The Room – Watch it/buy it at Amazon

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© Steve Morrissey 2023

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