I’m the kind of guy that appreciates a good storyteller—someone that understands how to work a room and how to extend the boundaries of the truth just enough for the sake of dramatic effect. It’s an art form—one that can be tricky to pull off in film. Telling a layered and nuanced story takes time, and more often than not, these lengthy conversations take a back seat to the more “exciting” elements of moviemaking. That’s not the case with The Oak Room, though. In fact, it’s the film’s primary focus.
For his latest release, director Cody Calahan (Let Her Out, Antisocial) teamed up with writer Peter Genoway to adapt Genoway’s existing stage play into a feature film. Don’t let the narrative focus turn you gorehounds away, though. The end result is sure to be unlike anything else you see this year. Sticking to the spirit of Genoway’s original work, Calahan opted for a single-set production. So while the locations of the characters change throughout the story, the set itself does not. Instead, skilled production designers and some clever cinematography are able to transform the solo locale into a gruesome tale of two bars—and what a tale it is.
Stories within stories unfold through mysterious and intimate conversations between characters. Sometimes told out of order or seemingly unrelated to the core narrative altogether, these stories all serve a purpose. The Oak Room isn’t an anthology. Characters on screen simply take turns delivering various personal and revealing monologues. It’s a movie that demands the audience’s attention, and while that may seem like asking a lot these days, genuinely compelling performances left me eagerly awaiting the next big revelation—some of which are admittedly larger or more satisfying than others. Fortunately, for a movie that centers around little more than conversation, The Oak Room is remarkably engaging.
Grim cinematography and sound design create a constant and palpable sense of dread and unease against the remote Canadian backdrop—both of which go a long way in contributing to the growing sense of everyone knowing more than they’re willing to share. There’s plenty to be found in the subtext, and this small but capable cast is up for the challenge. Peter Outerbridge and RJ Mitte trade setups and punchlines while Ari Millen and Martin Roach engage in a tense game of “gotcha”. Ultimately, both groups are excellent, but don’t go into this one expecting a traditional horror film.
While The Oak Room has its fair share of horror and violence, it’s far more Frailty or Fargo than Green Room. It’s a unique cinematic experience that you’ll be hard pressed to draw direct comparisons to, and that’s a good thing. If you go into it with an open mind and proper expectations, you’ll be rewarded with a dark and devastating web of loss, death, and deceit. For Calahan and team, it’s an achievement worth celebrating. The Oak Room, like I’ll Take Your Dead before it, proves that the Black Fawn Films crew continues to grow and evolve as filmmakers. Tired of the same old thing? Check this one out when you get the chance—it’s anything but ordinary.
The Oak Room will make its world premiere at the Fantasia International Film Festival later this year.
[Fantasia 2020] ‘The Oak Room’ is Unlike Anything Else You’ll See This Year