Written by: Scott Clarimont
The first thing that popped into my mind as I got my viewing session of The Dead Room into motion was great, it’s an English flick, it’s going to be better than our paranormal flicks! But would that prove to be the case? Would the film’s origin really play some form of default advantage over American productions? Would my theory that filmmakers in most foreign markets respect the genre more than most American filmmakers?
The Dead Room was indeed a much craftier yet realistic rendition of a number of films we’ve seen released since Paranormal Activity, and Insidious thereafter re-popularized the paranormal/haunted house sub-genre. Let’s be real here and acknowledge that the sub-genre was all but dead until a handful of years ago, and let’s go ahead and give the two most (recent) important films of the sub-genre the credit they deserve for reigniting interest in electronic voice phenomenon, thermal vision recordings and electromagnetic fields. Let’s also bow our heads to The Dead Room, which utilizes a lot of familiar tropes but delivers a number of surprising spins to counter those familiarities.
The story drops three investigators – one a medium – into a creepy old house rumored to be haunted to such a degree that the last family to call the place home up and left, taking not a single belonging with them as they sped through the frame before the door could hit them in the ass. The trio is, of course, there to try and capture solid evidence that would essentially be irrefutable, on the horizon an indispensable forced admission of existence from skeptics and the public alike. At first it seems as though the “evidence” captured in the home will do little more than rival something you might see on Ghosthunters, but with each evening to pass, the activity intensifies until a showdown between the living and the dead inevitably comes to a head, and this group will indeed get the kind of proof that sets their case apart from the vast majority of others… if they can survive to share it.
I love the slow but deliberate pace of the picture. It’s perfect, and for a few minutes the dreadful atmosphere and tantalizing buildup feel a bit reminiscent (though how the subject matter is handled is extremely different) of the amazing Session 9. And the eclectic blend of characters is terrific, each completely unique to the other, each sensible, but each sensible for quite different reasons. These aren’t just simple characters, they’re believable personalities, and we grow to appreciate each one for the radically diverse qualities and beliefs they possess and stand by. I think the fact that we’ve only got three investigators to focus on is genius. Sure, it lowers the potential body count, but it’s much easier to invest in three individuals than, say, six or seven.
That’s part of this movie’s charm, it doesn’t force anything on us, and it doesn’t overextend itself. It feeds viewers just enough to completely wrap our heads around, and builds from there. Maybe we won’t be seeing six investigators thrown about lengthy hallways or levitating in contorted poses, but if you trade that fantastical element for something plausible, I think that sticks to viewers in an entirely different way. I’ll actually remember this movie; I’m struggling to find just a single example of a similar film that overdoes things on a grand level, despite the fact that I’ve seen a good 20 of those flicks in the last four or five years.
That’s where The Dead Room stands apart from most.
It doesn’t dazzle with colossal special effects sequences, and it isn’t concerned with spilling the blood of a myriad of different characters in a number of preposterous ways. Jump scares are just about entirely done away with, lending to the doom of the narrative. The Dead Room just lets the story breathe on its own, and it just lets the characters draw us into their nightmare. And, for the record, it is quite the nightmare this group experiences.
We see some stellar work from the cast, which includes Jeffrey Thomas, Laura Petersen, and the uber likable Jed Brophy. Director Jason Stutter consistently enables these three performers and encourages them to develop the story, and they do that in what feels like a very atypically organic fashion. I appreciate that, quite a bit, and I’d be a liar if I claimed The Dead Room was anything less than a constantly taut, nerve wracking experience made all the more distressing by the work of three refined thespians.
This is a picture that’s done nothing but fly under the radar, and there’s no reason for that. It’s a well told tale with plenty of quality twists. It’s loaded with great performances and it is terrifically shot, technically speaking. Easily one of the stronger paranormal films I’ve seen hit the market over the last few years, I’d recommend you stop to look into The Dead Room, you just never know what you might encounter.