The Oak Room (2020)

April 28th, 2021
Author: Meredith Taylor

Dir.: Cody Calahan; Cast: RJ Mitte, Peter Outerbridge, Ari Millen, Martin Roach, Nicolas Campbell; Canada 2020, 95 min.

Breaking Bad’s R J Mitte plays a mysterious drifter who fetches up in this suspense-ridden snowbound psychodrama based on Peter Genoway’s stage play and directed by Cody Calahan.

The Oak Room brings to mind Bill Paxton’s breakout hit Frailty (2013), but goes a step further, blurring the lines between thriller and horror with a slew of sinuous twists and turns that bring violence to small-town Canada in a slow-burn game of mistaken identity, childhood trauma and transference.

It would be a shame to spoil the ending, so let’s stick to the bare bones of the story. Steve (Mitte) turns up at his local during a snowstorm to settle a score with bartender Paul (Outerbridge), a friend of his father Gordon (Campbell), who has recently died. Paul is angry Steve didn’t attend the funeral or contribute to the costs. Paul has Gordon’s ashes, and claims Steve forced his father Gordon into an early grave, selling his business to finance Steve’s further education. Clearly a waste of time, judging by appearances. Steve casts his mind back to the past, revealing childhood trauma surrounding an incident where Steve was forced by his father to kill to a piglet. The past has turned Steve into a troubled and violent man who goes on to wreak havoc on the other characters. These are stormy waters and the red herrings soon pile up, seemingly leading nowhere. But by the end we are so deeply entrenching in the complex web of deceit, transference and projection that mayhem prevails.

The film’s narrative structure is the key to its runaway success. Mitte is mesmerising as the drifter  hellbent on changing his destiny. But are his grievances real or brought on by false memory, Steven emerging an unreliable narrator par excellence, and we are forced into decoding the enigmas as the film plays out. The Oak Room is sort of ‘sleeper’ – lying low, drawing us into its spiral of sinister snowy doom. Motives rather than murders make the most impact in this paranoid tour-de-force. AS

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