Director: Christian Volckman
Cast: Olga Kurylenko, Kevin Janssens, Joshua Wilson
Runtime: 1 hr 40 mins
Rating: NC16 (Sexual Violence)
Released By: Shaw Organisation
Opening Day: 4 February 2021
Synopsis: Kate (Olga Kurylenko) and Matt (Kevin Janssens) are a young couple in their thirties in search of a more authentic and healthy life. They leave the City to move into an old house in the middle of nowhere, lost in Maryland. Soon they discover a secret hidden room that has the extraordinary power to materialize anything they wish for. Their new life becomes a true fairytale. They spend days and nights indulging their every desire of material possession, swimming in money and champagne. Yet beneath this apparent state of bliss, something darker lurks: some wishes can have dire consequences. That Room could very well turn their dream into a nightmare when it gives them what they’ve been waiting forever and that nature was denying them...
What if you found some way of making an unlimited number of your material wishes come true? What would you wish for? How far would you go to get what you would not be able to naturally? What consequences would you be prepared to ignore?
In French director Christian Volckman’s English-language debut, a childless couple Kate (Olga Kurylenko) and Matt (Kevin Janssens) who move into an old Gothic mansion in a remote Maryland town discover a strange room within the house that grants them anything they want, as long as they ask.
While their initial wishes of wealth and other forms of debauchery are to be expected, things take a more unexpected turn when Kate succumbs to her desire to wish for a child. Having endured a number of miscarriages, Kate feels that that alone is necessary to make her life complete; and as commanded, the room gives her a baby boy she names Shane.
Whereas Kate is elated at simply being a mother, Matt becomes disillusioned at the unnatural circumstances of Shane’s coming into existence; in particular, Matt is disturbed by what happened to the former occupants of the house, a couple back in the 1970s who were murdered by a young man of unknown identity who came to be known as ‘John Doe’. Matt is even more unnerved when, after leaving the house to meet John Doe at the psychiatric hospital where he has been locked up in, he discovers that whatever the room gifts disappears into ash once it leaves the house.
In case you’re wondering, this is not some haunted house horror despite the foreboding nature of the room; instead, this is ultimately a twist on the old ‘Monkey’s Paw’ story, depicted as a cautionary tale about the unintended consequences that come with the best of intentions or even the most innocent of wishes. Indeed, the plotting becomes more interesting in the second half, which sees Shane mature first into a grade-school boy and then subsequently into a young adult after leaving the four walls of the house.
Not only does he grow jealous and possessive over Kate, Shane discovers the powers of the room and uses it to cleverly manipulate his ‘parents’. His piece de resistance is transforming the room into the outside world, replicating the real world within the world of the room so that he and Kate need never to leave the house in order to enjoy the pleasures that the world outside the house holds. It is a thrilling turn, but also goes somewhat off the rails when coupled with a sexual assault that is less shocking than plain disgusting.
Oh yes, Volckman pulls off all restraint in the extended climax, and without giving anything away, let’s just say that it pits Matt against Shane in a full-blown life-and-death cat-and-mouse game over Kate. That tension is not coincidental, and Volckman’s ambition at exploring the dangers of Oedipal complex taken to its most extreme is admirable. His execution however is less sophisticated, and you get the sense that he is going over-the-top without ever getting in deep about what he wants to say.
Had the writing and characterisation been stronger, ‘The Room’ would probably have been a lot more persuasive. It is never clear why Kate feels so strongly about being a mother, not least because she and Matt had seemed perfectly happy in the first half-hour simply enjoying each other’s company and what the room seemed to offer. On the other hand, Matt’s behaviour when confronted with Shane is also perplexing, and it is also never clear why he immediately builds a wall between him and Kate once Shane comes into the picture. And then of course there is Shane himself, whose motivations remain ambiguous right up till the end.
As intriguing as it is therefore, ‘The Room’ never quite becomes something truly satisfying. Never mind that it does not bother to explain the origins of the room, which is ultimately just a narrative device for the wishbone storytelling, but the movie lacks the depth to turn its conceit and themes into what it clearly aspires to be. It is still a wild ride though, something curiously original at that, and worth checking in only on that count; but if you’re expecting a dark, wicked and profound psychological horror, you’ll probably come out wanting more out of your stay.
(A uniquely high-concept psychological drama that lacks the depth and nuance to be truly compelling)
Review by Gabriel Chong