Saturday, September 17, 2016

In short: The Dead Room (2015)

After paranormal phenomena have driven a family to panicked flight from their house situated in some so rural it looks like wilderness to this German part of New Zealand, three paranormal investigators are sent there to find out what’s what. On first look sceptical – though not so sceptical that it borders on insanity as many a horror film seems to like a sceptic - scientist Scott (Jeffrey Thomas), less sceptical scientist Liam (Jed Brophy) and young medium Holly (Laura Petersen) don’t find too much, but quickly there’s a lot of bumping going on ever night around every 3am. Holly also sees a very tall and very threatening man producing these effects.

To make things even more curious, there is one room inside the house that seems ghost-proof, immune against the tall presence and whatever it brings.

There’s quite a bit to like about Jason Stutter’s ghost house movie The Dead Room. Obviously, originality is not very big among these things, but the film does use some interesting variations on standard haunted house narrative devices. The house this takes place in, for example, is much smaller than is typical in the genre, clearly not too old either, going against many a gothic surface trope while still having the same kinds of hauntings you’d expect going on. Horrors, it turns out, are not exclusively a thing of the most distant past.

The presentation of the haunting is interesting too. The audience, as do Liam and Scott, only ever get to see things moving, hear knocks, feel the house shaking, while only Holly ever is able see the tall man. Stutter’s clearly following the old adage that the things you can’t see are much more frightening than those you can, and it works out well for the most part, giving what is on paper a series of very conventional and tired scares some life. It’s also something I haven’t seen a film use quite the way The Dead Room does in a very long time.

In general the film is appropriately moody, using the small location and the three person main cast expertly, and while there are certainly no particularly deep characters on display, they are lively and real enough to evoke a degree of empathy when they get the crap scared out of them; plus, they’re definitely not annoying, so I never felt myself wishing for anyone’s early death.

Unfortunately, the film pisses away a lot of the goodwill it has produced when its final ten minutes turn into carnival barker style horror nonsense of the worst and most well-worn type. It’s probably meant to be the kind of tonal shift that surprises and shocks the viewer with its audacity, but in practice, the whole thing feels as tacked on as it is tacky, as if the film’s proper ending had been replaced with footage from a different, and pretty damn bad, film.

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