Studio: IFC Midnight
Director: Jason Stutter
Writer: Kevin Stevens, Jason Stutter
Producer: Kevin Stevens
Stars: Jed Brophy, Jeffrey Thomas, Laura Petersen
A paranormal research team uncovers evidence of a mysterious entity haunting an abandoned New Zealand farmhouse.
Sensitive psychic Holly, scientific skeptic Scott, and level-headed Liam make up the team tasked by an insurance company to investigate a claim of possible paranormal activity. A fearful family fled their remote New Zealand farmhouse and left everything behind in Lutz-like haste. Now it is up to this intrepid trio to suss out if something supernatural is indeed haunting the quaint country home.
Equipment is prepared, hot chocolate is on the stove, and the stage is set for a waiting game of motion-tripped cameras, EVP sessions, and banging doors blamed on drafts blowing through dodgy carpentry. Grab a hot chocolate of your own and settle in for a spell, as “The Dead Room” moves forward so slowly, it is occasionally unclear if its ramp is even pitched upward at all.
Estimating conservatively, “The Dead Room” depletes well over half of its runtime before something more significant than a sleep-startling thump in the night finally takes place, and the film is only 75 minutes to begin with. That’s a very long time to go through the usual motions of paranormal researchers listening to clicking EMF readers and squinting at monitors while the audience waits, waits, and then waits some more for the inevitable to happen.
Certainly no unique ground is broken with this routine haunted house tale. Seeing as how similar setups are usually “found footage” affairs and “The Dead Room” is not, at least the film has that factor in its favor.
Though the plot may be tired, the filmmaking is not lazy at all. “The Dead Room” is neither original nor especially frightening, yet the combined technical tactics of cinematographer Grant Atkinson and director/editor Jason Stutter distract from dullness with subtle creativity worthy of recognition.
Independent horror films at this level too often resign themselves to being cheap point and shoot projects. “We need a shot of three people searching a single room? Plop the camera in a corner and turn it on.”
“The Dead Room” is more considerate than that. No matter how simple, shots are sensibly chosen, carefully blocked, and filmed with an extra flourish. If the camera has room to dolly, pan, or follow action on foot even slightly, it does so for an additional pinch of visual intrigue. Use of a boom, or at least someone standing on a chair and lowering the camera, also keeps imagery moving fluidly. Such techniques aren’t required to get straightforward scenes in the can, but sincere commitment proves this crew cares about craftsmanship.
It isn’t all peaches and sunshine on the presentation front. Several CGI spooks and a suspect green screen reveal the film isn’t exactly employing top of the line software for visual effects. These instances don’t rear up enough to be a true nuisance. Then again, they also don’t help sell suspension of disbelief.
Aiding as much as they are able is a trim cast of only three actors giving it an honest go. Jeffrey Thomas in particular chews on the choicest lines as the gruff group leader (“you’d have more luck trapping helium in a birdcage”). Although as far as depth goes, the screenplay is definitely in need of significant work. Or at least a more descriptive story.
For one thing, there isn’t any background behind the haunting. The researchers do their thing, furniture eventually flies, yet other than the psychic identifying the presence as a “giant man,” absolutely nothing is known about this evil entity. There isn’t even anything substantial said about the family frightened away to kickstart the investigation in the first place.
Another example of underdone writing is uncertainty over why the trio remains in the house after confirming the spirit can cause them physical harm. This isn’t the generic “why don’t they just get out of there?” conundrum typically questioned. The investigators actually commit to leaving and then simply don’t. There is a daytime montage of everyone packing up gear and then a cut to nighttime, where all three of them are still in the house with the two men trying to catch some shuteye. What happened to the escape plan?
“The Dead Room” is not to be watched while groggy. It won’t necessarily be what puts you to sleep, though it doesn’t go out of its way to jolt you from dozing if that’s where you’re already headed. The movie may not be particularly remarkable either, but the effort invested is well above average, and that warrants some measure of admiration for the filmmakers.
Review Score: 50