Here we are, geek and geekettes, in the middle of a pandemic, most of us stuck at home staying safe, or otherwise in quarantine, our entire lives upended. What better time to watch a movie in which a married couple are trapped in a house with a spooky child who cannot leave the confines of their home? At this moment, there is perhaps nothing as far-fetched as that scenario, nor…nearly a month in…nothing as maddening.
Director Christian Volckman directs what might as well be a documentary at this point, in the 2019 film, The Room (no, no…the OTHER Room. NO! NOT Room…the other The Room! Jeez. It shouldn’t be that difficult.)
Olga Kurylenko and Kevin Janssens star as Kate and Matt, respectively. They’ve purchased an old house in upstate New York, and Matt has eyes on restoring it. Kate’s a freelance translator, frustrated at her prospects and at the fact that she and Matt have been unable to have any children. Matt is a painter, frustrated at his own lack of inspiration and ability to fulfill Kate’s wishes. Hoping a change of location will help turn things around, together they go about restoring the mansion, room by room.
The mansion is at least a least a hundred years old, with a massive steampunk-looking generator-type contraption in the basement with conduits leading up and throughout the house. While doing repairs, Matt discovers a mysterious room, boarded up and painted over, seemingly forgotten.
This room, as they soon discover, materializes whatever the occupant desires. Priceless art, mountains of cash, expensive wine and champagne; whatever they can wish for, it materializes. They enjoy a newfound freedom: they’ll never lack of money, food, or entertainment so long as the room provides, but it soon weighs on Kate, especially. It’s all just things that they’re wasting on the room.
Frustrated by their efforts, one night Kate wishes for a baby, against Matt’s stern objections. Horrified, Matt tracks down the house’s prior owners, only to find “John Doe” (John Flanders), a man living in a psych hospital, with seemingly no past, locked up for having murdered his parents and extensive knowledge of the room.
Angry and frustrated at his wife, Matt drives into town, stopping for gas, and trying to pay for it with room-created cash…only to discover the bills have turned to dust. Anything removed from the confines of their house soon ages rapidly, turning to dust.
With barely a moment to spare, Matt stops Kate from taking their son, whom they’ve named Shane, for a walk into town, saving him just as he ages into a 9-year-old (played by Joshua Wilson). What follows is a claustrophobic, tense power-battle, as Shane tries to convince Kate the only one they need, is each other, at any costs.
This is a slow-build of a film. The sequences in which Matt and Kate use — and abuse — the room itself is deliriously paced and edited; a few out-of-left-field wishes involve NASA space suits. But, once Shane has grown into a 9-year-old, the film slows deliberately, allowing the eeriness of the predicament to really grow.
Having watched this film late in March, while living in Queens, New York, at the outset of a lockdown, I cannot explain how much this film resonates. Shane’s inability to leave the house, for fear of an unseen demise, confined to three floors, and whatever his “parents” can conjure for him, is as relatable a situation as I can imagine. Even when Matt and Kate wish for an entire forest within the confines of the room, ultimately they know it to be a fake, make believe.
Whatever means of keeping oneself from feeling less confined during the era of this pandemic, always in the back of one’s mind is the idea that there is some lurking danger just outside your window. The sheer boredom — or, rather, monotony — of being confined to the same four walls plays out with the same sort of paranoia and unsettled attitude as in The Room.
This film, when compared to the similarly-themed Vivarium (which I’d also reviewed here), is merely complementary: both films involve young parents, strange children, and the trap that is parenthood, or, to be more fair, an overarching idea of “adulthood”: parenthood is often viewed as the epitome of adult achievement, along with home-ownership.
Francoise Joset‘s production design comes into its own in the climax, which plays with some of the same psychedelic visuals that pop up at the climax of Vivarium. Coupled with cinematographer Reynald Capurro‘s camera work, the titular room itself is given an eerie, otherworldly presence.
The mechanisms that run the room — which warp and wrap themselves into every wall and nook of the house — look ancient, foreboding, as if they had always existed. It’s the most impressive aspect of the entire film, truth be told.
Atmospheric, moody, gloomy, and perhaps more resonate in April 2020 than it otherwise would have been, The Room is a quick, creepy watch. 3.5/5 Bibles.
The Room is streaming on Shudder today.