Wednesday, August 1, 2018

The Lost Room (2006)

Police detective Joe Miller (Peter Krause) becomes involved with a very strange case of murder that sees the victims fused with their environment. The investigation leads him to a motel room key that is able to open every door, with said door then leading into a strange, very 60s motel room, and from there, through every door in existence. Miller soon learns this key is only one of a number of seemingly quotidian Objects (they really earn that capital letter), each of which carries its own, reality-bending power.

There’s a whole sub-culture surrounding these Objects, with a faction out to destroy them because they leave a trace of destruction and madness in their wake (mostly represented by a character played by Julianna Margulies), a cult that believes bringing all of the objects together will bring them into contact with the mind of God (that one wouldn’t be one I’d want to meet, personally), a millionaire (Kevin Pollak) trying to get certain objects together for a personal reason, as well as various criminals and sad and broken people fixating on the magical/cursed things. Miller has to get rather involved into these people’s business, and the mysteries of the Objects, for his little daughter Anna (Elle Fanning in her secret origin) disappears in the room; he’s also framed for murder.

This three part TV movie (that is actually structure like six regular episodes paired up) made for SyFy, written by Laura Harkcom, Christopher Leone and Paul Workman (a trio whose major achievement this has been until now) and directed by TV vets Craig R. Baxley and Michael Watkins, is a surprisingly wonderful little thing. Sure, its plotting, as well as the way our protagonist is written and motivated, is very much competent standard TV writing of the early Oughts, as is the direction, so in this regard, it doesn’t seem to be terribly special.

However, this relative blandness of some elements fits the series nicely, providing an effective contrast to the surprising number of Weird concepts it uses, and grounding the strangeness of the Objects and the Motel Room in the consensus reality of network-style television. And make no mistake: the show’s writer’s clearly understand they are telling the story of a rift (or rather, several little ones) in the world through which the numinous/terrible gets in, touching various people in ways only something truly outside of human comprehension and understanding can, and apply themselves accordingly. Which is a fine trick to pull off particularly since most of the Objects’ powers aren’t spectacular. The way their owners react to them sells the strangeness here more than anything, with most of them clearly at least slightly unstable, perhaps teetering on the edge of becoming unhinged completely, obsessing over the Objects – theirs and others. It’s particularly telling and effective how often the films have the Object owners saying these things are the only thing they have left, portraying them as unfit for the normal world once they have been touched by a different one. In a particularly clever move, the films never outright state or explain if the Objects seek out or draw people with bad lives and a tendency to obsess or if owning them and using them breaks people in ye olde cosmic horror style of corruption via insight into the true nature of the universe. Basically, it is never quite clear if it is the Objects or us that’s wrong.

In general, the films have a good idea of how much they can explain about the nature of the Room and the Objects without destroying the sense of true Weirdness, so we never learn what bit of the world broke and how it did, but we do learn where it is centred. The rest is a mystery, and it works better staying one.

The films have a lot of other cleverness in them too, as for example demonstrated in the imagination they show when it comes to the way Objects with minor powers might be used, or in a couple of really strange suspense scenes, like the one that is based on our hero’s ability to build a lock into a door faster than someone else can break through security glass and get to him.

The whole thing – Weird reality grounded in the quotidian, cabals that develop around the Weird, the pressures of unreality on human minds, the whole concept and execution suggesting the RPG “Unknown Armies” or mid-period Tim Powers – is pretty much catnip to me, turning a solidly made TV miniseries into something rather special.

No comments: