Director: Jonathan Zarantonello
Writer: Paolo Guerrieri, Luigi Sardiello, Jonathan Zarantonello
Producer: Ethan Wiley, Mark Moran, Enzo Porcelli
Stars: Barbara Steele, Ray Wise, Erica Leerhsen, Ellery Sprayberry, Julia Putnam, Heather Langenkamp
A butterfly collector begins a strange relationship with the girl next door that has dark parallels to the woman’s past.
Depictions of child predators stalking young girls at a mall are unsettlingly disturbing. No doubt because this is an all too true to life horror. “The Butterfly Room” finds an inventive way to make this theme even more uncomfortable by making the young girl a willing participant and the predator a mature woman in search of a part-time surrogate daughter. “The Butterfly Room” is a covered boil thriller that crawls under the skin slowly and infects all the way up to the psyche.
Anne is an older woman who lives alone in an apartment complex. Well groomed and well mannered, the matronly woman occupies her ample free time by increasing her collection of preserved butterfly specimens. Norman Bates has taxidermy and Anne has butterfly pinning. No one in horror movies with a hobby involving dead insects or dead animals has ever been anything less than psychotic, and Anne is no different.
Although Anne preserves her butterflies in glass display cases, no one is actually allowed into her so-called “Butterfly Room.” That is not her oddest quirk, however. Anne is part of a dark subculture, for lack of a better way to describe it, in the film’s depiction of a Los Angeles where menopausal women seek young girls for afternoons of temporary mother-daughter time. It is indeed a strange world where these mature women jealously battle each other for the affections of a child that is not even theirs. Stranger still is the child who willfully extorts these women through a part-time job of standing in as their daughters.
In the best sense of the word, “strange” describes everything that is captivating about “The Butterfly Room.” Anne is far from being the only person who exhibits creepy behavior. The character list is an assemblage of thoroughly odd personalities. Not only are there women who pay a young girl to pretend to be their daughters and a girl who performs the task, but there is also a one-legged prostitute mother who condones her daughter’s questionable side business. Butterfly pinning and surrogate parenthood are just two of the strange things going on within the film.
The story is quietly dark and the atmosphere moody. It plays with a slight hint of surreal while its feet are kept planted in an identifiable world. Watching the mystery unfold as Anne crafts her own unnerving fantasy through these children is dreamily hypnotic. And the characterizations of all the mildly and not so mildly twisted personas is just as interesting.
“The Butterfly Room” is a showcase for genre icon Barbara Steele, who has been seldom seen on the silver screen since the century turned. The rest of the cast is a Scream Queen reunion of sorts with cameos representing several of horror’s most notable films. P.J. Soles of “Halloween,” Adrienne King of “Friday the 13th,” and Camille Keaton of “I Spit on Your Grave” appear briefly as mothers vying for a young girl’s attention. Heather Langenkamp of “A Nightmare on Elm Street” has a bigger role as a potential foil to Barbara Steele. And just to make sure that all of the major franchises are covered, Erica Leerhsen of the 2003 “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” adds to that list of the film’s mothers. “Gremlins” director Joe Dante provides the cherry on top with his quick scene as a taxicab driver.
Finding a weak link in that cast list is hard to do. The performances are not exactly perfect, however. There is so much jealous rage and angry scheming going on from everyone at all times that some scenes are overbaked. It may be because the script is crackling with too much female fury, or it may be that director Jonathan Zarantonello needed to subdue things a bit.
Still, “The Butterfly Room” is on a fast track for becoming the go-to horror film for a Mother’s Day holiday. Although most of the horror is psychological, psychotic Anne does find more than one way to drop a few bodies using methods both gruesome and slightly comical. (Try not to chuckle just a bit at the elevator music as Anne fumbles with a corpse.) “The Butterfly Room” is the style of eerie suspense that sticks in the head even after the credits roll.
Review Score: 80