Wednesday 14 December 2016

The Disappointments Room (2016) - Movie Review
We’re talking about another movie scored a supposedly rare 0% on Rotten Tomatoes today, except this has two key differences to others I’ve discussed on here before. For a start, unlike the DVD and Netflix releases from before, this one actually made into cinemas. Bear in mind that this got released in the last week or so over here in Australia, after the majority of critics gave a God-sized thumbs down, so time to brush off that soapbox to talk about Australia’s screwed-up cinematic priorities.

The other difference is that, quite frankly, I may have watched this solely because of its bad reputation but I am getting kind of tired of just approaching these movies based mainly on that single integer. This is going to be a small change of pace as, along with being as genuine as I’ve always been on this blog, I will also be making more of a considerate effort to find merit in it. I’m not expecting to find much for obvious reasons, but let’s just see what happens.

The plot: Architect Dana (Kate Beckinsale), her husband David (Mel Raido) and their son Lucas (Duncan Joiner) move out of Brooklyn into a rural Southern home. As they all settle in, meet the neighbours and Dana gets to work on repairing her new house, she discovers a hidden-off room in the house that isn’t on any of the official plans. As thoughts and dreams start to haunt her about the last resident of that room, she soon learns of the dark secrets the house holds… and how they may soon take her over.

The cast here is boring with a capital lame. Beckinsale is in no way able to work with her dialogue, making the long spurts of movie-reality business jargon she says every few scenes feel extremely forced. This is pretty much why I make it a point of highlighting the cast as much as I do in these reviews: Because it’s really, really fucking obvious when someone is screwing up. Not that she’s alone in that regard, though, as Raido is just about the most shiftless parental figure I’ve seen in a horror film in a very long time. Incredibly obnoxious and terribly stereotyped in terms of being a stay-at-home dad, he was directed to act this way just to make Beckinsale, our main character, look tolerable by comparison.

Joiner is weak but mainly on the inoffensive side of child acting; it’s bad but it’s not as atrocious as I’ve seen elsewhere. Lucas Till shows up as a walking aborted subplot, and even that is being generous, and Gerald McRaney as the big bad ghost of the story is… I really want to say that he’s good but, knowing he’s been able to keep his head well above water even in bad films, this is subpar.

Writer Wentworth Miller, better known for his role in Prison Break, to date has one other film under his belt with Stoker. It was a pretty well-regarded film, but that’s in spite of its script and more attributed to the direction. We’re dealing with a director here whose best work was Disturbia, a basic re-tooling of the classic Rear Window, so hopes aren’t exactly high that this will be a similar situation. Between this and Stoker, Miller seems to have a real fascination with the seedy lives of the upper class, exposing it for the sake of commentary and spine tingles, and this is no exception.

When we get into what exactly the titular Disappointments Room is and what it was used for, it follows that same path and, between the societal "what will the neighbours think?" level of criticism and how Dana’s guilt and depression is portrayed on screen, we get a decent comparison of the two parental mindsets. Unfortunately, it doesn’t end up doing a whole lot with that idea, making the mistake of highlighting behaviour without really commenting on it. In a film like this, where the lower-middle class stereotypes are this rampant from David to the ice cream store clerk, that mistake ends up creating confusion on whether this is trying to commentate on the class divide or simply wants to exploit it to give this horror film more meaning.

Can’t say that works out too well either as, for a horror film, the horror elements here make absolutely zero sense. Oh sure, it’s easy to understand why they exist within this film, but for the characters within it, the presences that are constantly out of their eyesight should in no way affect them as they do here. It takes the fact that film editing is essentially rewriting reality, and fumbles it to create a film that constantly, yet unintentionally, nudges the fourth wall. Add to that the always-irksome trope of having the scariest moments happen during dreams by the main character, and you get weaksauce pouring out of this film’s many structural cracks.

And now for the worst part of the entire film, even more so than its writing and directorial issues (well, specifically at any rate): This is incredibly dull. The film’s narrative just blazes through plot beats that are honestly just following the haunted house sub-genre’s blueprints, keeping whatever tantalising character developments that could be made either too thin to really latch onto, or just ignored altogether for pretty much no reason. Unless the editor was off his face on pharmaceuticals, a film this short shouldn’t be this devoid of actual character. And no, Dana’s familial relationships don’t count as characterisation. As a result, we get a film where there is barely anything happening, and the little that does end up transpiring is made uninteresting because it seems like not even the filmmakers know what to do with it, let alone the audience. Hell, the little that does take place here fails largely because, in the progression of events we see on screen, it doesn’t make any sense.

All in all, it would be far too easy to call this a disappointment as far, far too many critics already have. Personally, even discarding how I found out about the movie in the first place, this isn’t a disappointment because I cannot understand how anyone could have thought this was going to be good. The acting is lame, the direction fails pretty basic tenets of conveying fiction and the writing feels like the thought patterns of a stoner writ large, in that it keeps thinking it’s making valid points but ultimately just keeps getting distracted by itself and making very little sense in the process. This is drywall mixed with pieces of reflective glass to make it look better than it actually is: It’s incredibly dull and not even worth the watch if you happen to enjoy bad movies.

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