In The Room, Kate (Olga Kurylenko) and Matt (Kevin Janssens) are yet another entry in horror’s long tradition of hopeful strivers. Exhausted by the pace and cost of New York City, the thirty-something couple move into a rather palatial fixer upper in the upstate New York woods. Within the first few minutes of the film, it’s clear the pair is hoping the additional space will give artist Matt better conditions to paint, and Kate a lower overhead to cover while working as a freelance translator.
Too good to be true real estate purchases are a horror trope as old as the genre itself, and The Room‘s screenwriting team must be given credit for wasting no time in creating escalating complications. A bad omen dead bird is found in the kitchen. A bizarre labyrinth of wires is tangled beneath every conceivable surface, the electricity flickering ominously. The previous owners died in the house, and there is a mysterious room hidden behind the peeling wallpaper. A room that can supernaturally grant wishes, as Matt accidentally discovers when he jokingly asks for another bottle of whiskey after a long day of home repairs.
Kate and Matt are soon on a delightfully dizzy spree of cash, clothes and priceless artwork. A well edited montage lets us watch as the pair roleplay their way through old Hollywood glamour and disco excess, each night a honeymoon bacchanalia of delicacies, diamonds and designer lingerie.
Christian Volckman’s direction is particularly effective when the party finally ends, with carefully chosen shots lingering over last night’s clothes and half eaten desserts, moving boxes still unpacked amongst the wreckage of the mysterious room’s provided windfall. Matt and Kate no longer bicker about money, but all of the trinkets have provided much more than a hangover.
Discontented, Kate wishes for the child she has been denied by a series of unfortunate miscarriages. The introduction of the baby takes the film out of the standard monkey’s paw plot points and into more philosophically interesting territory.
The tension between Matt and Kate mounts, and the consequences become more than just the usual question of material greed, but of daring to play God. While wishes are unlimited, nothing the mystical room provides can leave the house, crumbling to dust if taken past the threshold. Kate wants to protect her son at all costs, Matt isn’t sure if the child is human at all, or if he’s another wish fulfillment figment, as impermanent as everything else the room conjures up.
It is at this point in the flick that cracks in The Room‘s foundation begin to show. Because the mechanism of how the room works is never explained, the film’s internal logic becomes increasingly fractured in a messy third act that tonally doesn’t match up at all with what preceded it. The baby (whom Kate has named Shane) is only aged a few years by exposure to the outside, but not ground to dust like everything else the room has produced.
The now primary school aged Shane is also able to use the room’s powers in more abstract and expansive ways than any of the other characters. This sets in motion a chain of events that wastes the frisson of eerie changeling child horror the film had been subtly building up. The deeper psychological questions of the first half are abandoned for a sharp and deeply uncomfortable veer toward the Oedipal that is so jarring it reads as exploitative.
The Room is visually lush, and for what is primarily a one location film, the set design and cinematography are carefully constructed to give each room in the house a distinct aesthetic. The home is reflective of the both the fairy tale world Kate wants to create for the housebound Shane, and the increasing isolation Matt feels as his wife becomes enthralled with the escapism that comes with the room’s wish fulfillment.
The two leads also give very committed performances, but are consistently hamstrung by the script. There is very little room for consistent character development in the face of a film so overstuffed with plot devices. Matt and Kate’s behavior and reactions are in service to the next checkpoint in the storyline, rather than what had been previously established as their baseline personalities. Olga Kurylenko and Kevin Janssens both deserve praise for managing to give realistic emotional heft to a pair of characters that, as written, are both overburdened and under baked.
With health and safety concerns greatly slowing the schedule of new releases, the visual polish and early subversion of expectations in the The Room feel like a breath of fresh air. Real life circumstances in the era of quarantine lend the story of a family trapped in their home an impact the script otherwise lacks.
What hampers The Room from being memorable for more than its topical aspects is the complete lack of follow though on its more interesting ideas. As the credits roll, you’ll likely wish the movie had sustained its early conceptual promise, rather than fritter away the goodwill of its own cleverness in a circular journey to the morality play tropes it had initially managed to subvert.
WICKED RATING: 6/10
Director(s): Christian Volckman
Writer(s): Sabrina Karine, Eric Forestier, Gaia Guasti, Vincent Ravalec, Christian Volckman
Stars: Olga Kurylenko, Kevin Janssens, Joshua Wilson
Release: July 21, 2020 (VOD, Digital HD, DVD and Blu-ray)
Studio/Production Company: Les Films du Poisson, Versus Production, Bidibul Productions
Run Time: 100 minutes