Written by: Matt Molgaard
Directed by: Jason Stutter
Cast: Jed Brophy, Jeffrey Thomas, Laura Petersen
The Dead Room opens to major promise. It’s a very clean film, smooth camera work at every turn. The transitions are slick and the editing is well done. And then you’ve got a trio of performers who all just so happen to look quite comfortable in front of the camera. And then the story unravels… and all the wind gets sucked from the sail, but not in an instant, in prolonged fashion.
The Dead Room only runs a brief 78 minutes, and I like that. My brain has a tendency to move a little too fast to keep pace with slower films. At 78 minutes, I know that director Jason Stutter (who also co-writes with Kevin Stevens) is going to hit me in the face with all the juice he’s got, and he’s going to be relentless in doing so. There’s no time to waste.
At least, that’s what I thought would happen.
What actually happens, as we follow three paranormal investigators into an old and haunted farmhouse, is nothing. Some banging on the walls here and there. Footsteps. The chandeliers move on their own. Doors close without the assistance of a living hand. Those four things happen over and over and over again. Those four things happen for 70 minutes straight. I kid you not – 70 effin’ minutes straight!
How do I know it was 70 minutes? Because after a half hour of seeing the same scene on virtual repeat I hit the info button to check my position in the film (and continued to do so every 10 or 15 minutes, just hoping for something and soon). So much time had passed before we truly got the chance to see some action, I immediately hit the info button yet again out of curiosity. One hour and ten minutes of a one hour and eighteen minute film. That’s how long it took to actually see something different and compelling take place on the screen in front of my eyes.
Eight minutes left… and guess what? There isn’t even eight minutes really left in the film: the credits begin rolling at 1:15:19. So, the truth is, we get five minutes of action from a 75 minute film – not 78 – 75!
It’s just a damn shame. The picture looks so impressive. The location is impressive. All three performers really handle themselves quite well. They’re three very different personalities, but they form an interesting dynamic that proves engaging in a number of moments. The one noteworthy glimpse you get of a ghost is practical work – so there’s not a hefty layer of visual effects leaving us nauseated as the story unfolds.
There are so many strong qualities to this film, and Jason Stutter clearly knows how to make a technically sound film. He just has some issues with the writing, apparently. Anyone who screened this film before moving forward with release should have immediately pointed out the fact that it’s too damn bare and repetitive. It’s too one-note. Five minutes of action and chills does not equate to a consistently frightening experience. Without any twists and turns, and without any big moments – even utilized as markers to signal an act change – there’s little here to enjoy.
The writing game needs to be stepped up quite a bit and that’s almost all there is to it. The story mechanics aren’t really in place. There’s a twist at the end of the film, but there is no defined subplot, there is no unexpected elements to the conflict, it’s just one state of mind, and one set of reactions run on repeat until the final five or so minutes of the film. When a movie looks and sounds this great, the only logical answer remaining rests on the writer’s shoulders.