Seriously, this needs to stop! We need to stop titling movies with some variation of “Room.” First, there was The Room (2003), Tommy Wiseau’s disaster of a piece about a ridiculous man that somehow has a girlfriend. Then, there was simply Room (2015), the Bree-Larson-starring Oscar-bait film that’s actually pretty damn good, but they could’ve gone with like five other titles to prevent confusion. Finally, there’s The Room (2019), a horror-thriller about a young couple starting a new life in a new home. Luckily, the film itself is much more creative than it’s title suggests.
The film stars Olga Kurylenko and Kevin Janssens as Kate & Matt, the couple in question. Their introduction sees them moving into a big house in a secluded area in Upstate New York. We know this because Kate tells
the audience her mom over the phone about the exposition we need to be caught upon. Once unpacked, the young couple seems to be enjoying their fresh start, sans a few mild arguments that Kate & Matt get into. Matt’s a painter and is more invested in his hobby than helping Kate organize their new house. Meanwhile, Kate suffers from anxiety amidst failed attempts to get pregnant.
But the couple seems to have bigger issues at hand when Matt is told by one of the locals that his big new house was once the site of a murder. Years ago, a young man killed his parents and is now captive in a mental institution. You may already be thinking – I’ve seen this movie before. Usually, you’d be right, but The Room doesn’t go where you think it would go. The film takes the trope of the “house that was the scene of a murder”, but avoids putting the characters on course for an inevitable confrontation against a haunted spirit. Rather, it turns the trope on its head by making the characters’ own flaws the pathway to their damnation. This isn’t redux of The Amityville Horror, but to reveal what exactly is going on here would venture too far into spoiler territory.
What I can reveal is how successfully the story turns into a psychological thriller, playing off the fears and aspirations of both Kate and Matt. What we eventually begin to wonder is if this seemingly perfect couple should even be together. They have similar goals but go about those goals in drastically different ways. Kate is neurotic, anxious; clever, but her decisions have immense consequences. Meanwhile, Matt is an alcoholic, and at times just a terrible person. There are moments here where you’ll wonder if he’s one of the worse human beings on the planet. They seem ill-equipped to handle the luxuries they’re afforded, which feeds into the film’s themes about power, patience, love, and resentment.
The film focuses on just a select few characters, therefore each performance has to work or it could bring the whole movie down. Janssens is probably the biggest standout here, once again proving that he can portray the slimiest of men, with just enough redeeming qualities to avoid full-blown hatred from the audience. There has to be a breakout in his future where he plays a Bond villain, or Gerard Butler’s foil, or the douchebag boyfriend in a Netflix rom-com. John Flanders is a solid addition to the cast, once you get past his shitty comb-over; he has a bang that looks like it just gave up. But he plays a key part and his performance feels measured when the role required of him could have easily descended into camp and over-acting.
But much of the film’s success rides on Kurylenko, as in many ways it’s her movie. However, I’m not sure she’s the best choice for the role. While she’s never bad, her portrayal feels generic, a paint-by-numbers descent into mental instability. She never owns any of the scenes she’s in, which wouldn’t be a problem if she had a less critical role. But since so much of the story rests on her portrayal, it limits the major scenes that could have taken the film to a new plateau. She’s likable, but Janssens is clearly a step above her in most scenes.
The inability to get the most out of the character interactions is perhaps the biggest sign that The Room is more successful at establishing ideas than using those ideas to craft the best narrative. While the character arcs could use a re-write, the twists and turns here are excellent. You’re expecting one thing, and get another – the film is really great at revealing things visually when Olga Kurylenko isn’t espousing exposition. In the process, you’ll find yourself considering what you’ll do in Matt or Kate’s predicament. They’re forced to make imperative decisions regarding how they will start their family, all while battling a dream house that soon turns into a nightmare.
The biggest takeaway to get from this story is that luxuries do not ensure happiness – they’re dependent on the decisions of the user. Kate & Matt struggle to maximize the opportunities afforded to them because they’re not on the same page. For the relationships you forge in your life, you have to ensure it’s a compatible partnership. If not, your dreams can turn ugly in a hurry.
The Room is available for streaming on Shudder and Amazon Prime Video.