It has become nearly impossible to have an original idea for a haunting story at this point; there are just so many of them out there that, in some way, films will begin to copy each other even in basic premise alone. Jason Stutter’s film The Dead Room at least comes close to a new concept, though; his story about a haunted cabin – based on a popular New Zealand urban legend about a farmhouse in Otago – involves ghastly happenings at the same 3 AM time period, but it also explores how one specific room in a house has been mysteriously protected from the supernatural phenomena. That idea would hopefully add life to The Dead Room‘s reliance on common ghost tale tropes, but unfortunately Stutter and co-writer Kevin Stevens seem to forget the room’s even there for most of the film.
The Dead Room follows three investigators as they scope out the supposedly haunted farmhouse, apparently for insurance purposes, and Sutter curiously opts to leave quite a bit of characterization out of the film. Instead, he allows the viewer to piece together their personalities from the interactions they have in the house as the plot slowly creeps forward. It’s clear that Liam (Jed Brophy) and Scott (Jeffrey Thomas) have worked together before as scientists, but Holly (Laura Petersen) seems oddly out of the loop; Stutter and Stevens don’t give this another thought besides a couple of dialogues about money and facing fears, especially since Holly can see ghosts but also fears them. Still, it’s refreshing to see The Dead Room leave out the extraneous information about these people, since most audience members will understand that these people are researching the paranormal activity, both for scientific and parascientific findings.
Still, there’s a lot of dead time in the film’s first act, moments where Stutter gives viewers the layout of the cabin along with the creaks and groans of aging wood without much substance. He’s setting the mood, and truthfully some of these events do give off eerie vibes – the use of a long hallway full of doors is particularly nice, allowing the team’s cameras to document a space through which an unseen being continues to pass – but ultimately the repetition of the haunting, night after night, eventually loses its tension. It doesn’t help that the entity’s invisibility requires the three cast members to play a game of Imagination, at times forcing Holly to yell out things like “He’s right in front of you!” since she’s the only one that can see the ghost. It lacks urgency even in its tensest moments, and Petersen can’t emote enough to make these encounters seem real or scary.
The biggest disappointment, though, is the titular dead room itself, which is an interesting premise that is mostly underutilized in the film. The dead room’s a place where the ghostly figure can’t go, a boundary that the protagonists use as a hideaway. Eventually, they discover some paneling in the wall that leads to a hidden basement area with a skeletal woman chained to a chair, and this is where The Dead Room really loses its footing. There’s a double haunting within the film, apparently with both a ghost who attempts to warn the trio about the dangers of that basement woman and then the more demonic apparition, who seems to be some sort of monster witch. Stutter’s direction gets sloppy in the final act, with strange edits – probably due to budget and stunt restrictions – and a reliance on jump scares in a film that has thus far largely gotten mileage out of slow haunt progression. And the lack of explanation hangs like a question mark during the film’s final scene; there’s no answers, no explanation, and The Dead Room feels like an unfinished narrative that overall lacks too much information about the haunted farmhouse and the researchers’ work there.
Stutter and Stevens do know how to craft some spooky sequences, and it’s not difficult to see them collaborating on a similar haunting tale with a plot that contains a bit more substance. However, The Dead Room is not that film, and the conclusion will leave viewers disappointed that the film’s promising beginnings result in dead air.
No special features on this disc; however, the 5.1 DTS-HD MA audio makes good use of the film’s Rumble sound technology emphasizing bass booms. Comes with English and Spanish subtitles and a trailer, along with trailers for other IFC Midnight releases.