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December 7, 2016

The Dead Room

by Franz Patrick


Dead Room, The (2015)
★★ / ★★★★

For a good while of Kiwi supernatural horror “The Dead Room,” directed by Jason Stutter, the film manages to wring out a healthy amount of spookiness and scares. However, just like many of its contemporaries, mainstream and independent alike, its ending is loud, predictable, and uninspired. It were as if the filmmakers were too willing to sacrifice their vision—what they felt to be exactly right for their material—for the sake of delivering the usual visuals that have been shown to work in better movies. When it really counts, it is disappointing that the picture is all too willing to embrace standard horror clichés.

Limiting the plot to three characters in an isolated, haunted farmhouse works. Usually, in stories involving paranormal investigators visiting a place with the goal of collecting scientific evidence of supernatural phenomena, too many characters are employed. We usually do not learn their names, what motivates them to their jobs, and so we assign them superficial traits that could help us to discern them from one another as they run around screaming and hollering in a massive estate full of cobwebs and shadows. Here, we know that Scott (Jeffrey Thomas) is the veteran and leader of the group, Liam (Jed Brophy) is willing to take on the assignment but unwilling to sacrifice anyone’s physical safety, and Holly (Laura Petersen) is a young medium whom at first we doubt has the ability she claims to possess.

The farmhouse is small and quaint but it is just right for the scope of the story. Right from the first scene where the trio drive up to the house and go inside, we are drawn into the details of the place. The family who lives there are so terrified by the entity in their home that they decide to leave without packing a thing. They got up in such a panic that they left dinner on the table. The investigators, equipment in hand, visit each room to detect a whiff of otherworldly presence. We look at family photos, how the beds are made (or not made), decorations hanging on walls. Holly feels nothing is wrong.

Expectedly, interesting occurrences happen at night. I enjoyed how the filmmakers show very little—doors opening and closing, knocking noises, chandeliers moving on their own, various equipments identifying a disturbance—yet these, collectively, manage to get us into a certain spooky mood. The events are more or less similar each night. They follow a specific pathway. Thus, we notice patterns. The screenplay challenges us to consider why this is. So we construct a story in our minds. Perhaps the ghost is trying to relive a certain past. Perhaps not. Is it trying to relay a message? Maybe it just wants to play.

Eventually, however, the picture takes on a more ostentatious route. People being flung on walls. Objects flying about. Glass windows being shattered by an invisible force. None of these are true to the quiet nature of the film, its innermost curiosities—like having a certain room providing a sort of safe space for the investigators. This mixed bag of a picture is at its best when we are forced to think about the rules and question if or when such rules would be thrown out the window eventually in order for the story to reach new depths.

Many horror writers—this film co-written by Kevin Stevens and Jason Stutter—should be required to take a course that teaches how not to end their work. For instance, there is a way to make the audience feel unsettled other than providing a final scene where a desperate character is dragged into the darkness by a malevolent entity. This technique is used so often, especially back in the early 2000s, that it has become tiresome, leaving a bitter taste in the mind. It gives the impression that the filmmakers do not at all care about their work, an act of throwing away all of the effort they’ve put into making an effective horror story into the wind.

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