The Expanse of Dreams
The Room is currently streaming on Shudder.
Some people love home renovation projects. Can’t get enough of them. I am not one of those people, due to a comical lack of handyman skills. An example? My involvement in a house painting project with my wife ended with an irritated lesson in proper brush techniques and the hissed admonition to “Go get pizza. Just go.” Needless to say, I got the pizza.
Your experience might have been different. Many years ago, my friends Stacy and Dave bought a home located in a small town in New England. Having been built in the late 1700s, their house passed through many owners until they came into its centuries-long life. As owners often do, Dave enthusiastically went to work tearing the place apart.
He remodeled the bathroom, redid the floors, and profoundly changed the interiors of that old house. Hell, he probably installed a subway system. Dave is one of those guys who’s happiest when there’s a project before him. He relishes each step in the process, and also likely enjoys knocking gigantic holes in the walls.
What Dave and others like him surely realize is that even the most extensive renovation projects can’t fully erase the past. Certain characteristics of a building want to be seen, despite the best efforts of the owners. Sometimes those characteristics can be…unsavory, to say the least. The new horror movie, The Room,* examines what happens when something is unearthed following the purchase of a new home, something that should have stayed buried.
Kate (Olga Kurylenko) and Matt (Kevin Janssens) have achieved one of the pillars of the American Dream. At last, they bought a home. They must have gotten an incredible deal, as it’s a gigantic place with seemingly endless corridors…and hardwood floors. They begin transforming it from a house into a home, and during that process, discoveries are made. The first one is a massive steel door, hidden behind a pile of debris and a hastily installed wall. The second is a strange key that only fits the lock for that particular door. Beyond the door? An empty room. Making things weirder is the occasional electrical surges. The electrician they call finds that miles of wiring has been installed under the floors and within the walls. It all leads to a power source in the basement that looks like it was designed by a steampunk version of Clive Barker.
There’s one other snag. As he’s departing, the electrician mentions his surprise that someone has bought the old place. The previous owners were brutally slain within the house, and the house has remained dormant since then.** Matt does a little online sleuthing and finds that the killer, known only as John Doe (John Flanders), is conveniently housed in a local mental hospital. As so often happens with our best internet sessions, Matt is drunk enough to fall down a rabbit hole but not drunk enough to pass out.
Matt stumbles past the steel door, into the empty room, and collapses. He leans back, drains a bottle of booze. With a sigh, he says to himself, “I need another bottle.” The lighting flickers. Everything goes dark for a moment. When the lights come up, another full bottle has appeared. The following morning, Kate finds him in the room, surrounded by things that weren’t there before. A kind of enchantment exists where anything wished for can become a tangible reality.
As you can imagine, this is odd. Kate asks him how it works. He replies with, “Who cares?” which seems like a cavalier attitude to have upon discovering a magical matter transport device. They experiment, asking for paintings, furniture, money, and more. The mechanical thing in the basement groans. The lights flicker. They promptly quit their jobs and enter a fantasy world, one provided by the room. The fantasy can’t paper over the cracks in their marriage, cracks caused by multiple miscarriages. Kate sees a chance for a new start, and after an argument, Matt finds Kate cooing over a baby. From there, things go exceedingly poorly.
Remember the old story, The Monkey’s Paw, the one where a mystical thingamajig grants wishes, but does so with a perverse twist? Director Christian Volckman is going for something similar. A limited budget and a handful of locations meant Volckman had to be creative. Instead of relying on CGI, he focuses on an atmosphere of slow, creeping dread. The Room has a couple of jump scares, but it leans closer to psychological horror in the first two acts. The third act features clever camera trickery and some trippy imagery while remaining rooted in character.
Written by Volckman, Sabrina B. Karine, and Eric Forestier, the screenplay does a number of things very well. Nobody cares why the room has magical powers, and the script knows that the important part is watching how the characters react to it. They push the capabilities of the room, discover its limitations, and we see the growing rift between Kate and Matt. Volckman, Karine, and Forestier have written a morality play that would be right at home in The Twilight Zone, and I enjoyed their take on the choices the characters make and their curdled wishes.
The cast is quite small, and the vast majority of the time is spent with Kevin Janssens and Olga Kurylenko. Between the two of them, Kevin Janssens’ Matt is saddled with the majority of the exposition. It’s his character that spends time learning stuff*** and he does his best with a role that’s occasionally a little thankless. Kate is the meatier role, and Kurylenko dives into it. She creates a fully three-dimensional character, and we see Kate’s joy, curiosity, despair, desperation, and terror. Plenty of actors would hold back in a horror movie, but Kurylenko gives it her all and delivers a strong performance.
The Room is a clever psychological thriller that examines the horror of getting what we want. Its dark, twisty, and intense filmmaking put the screws to characters that are a great deal like any of us. Though I like to think a decent home inspection could have saved them a ton of problems.
*I know, there’s already the 2003 Tommy Wiseau trashterpiece called The Room, and the very good 2015 Brie Larsen film called Room. A wise producer would have insisted on a title change with this one.
**You would have thought their Realtor would have mentioned that.
***He also spends a ton of time withholding information from Kate. I like to think my wife and I would have a healthy chat about moving into a house where a murder was committed and our discovery of a room with reality-warping powers. I like to think that, anyway.