The Disappointments Room (Film Review)

I can’t help but feel like there should be an apostrophe in the title. But that’s not the only thing that is missing in this horror-mystery from director D.J. Caruso and writer Wentworth Miller.

Dana (Kate Beckinsale) is an architect with a purpose, led by her well-meaning husband David (Mel Raido) to a recent purchase and her newest remodeling project – the Blackers House. Together with their five-year-old son Lucas (Duncan Joiner), the family moves into the gloomy house, and with the discovery of a secret room not found in the plans, two parallel family tragedies start to unfold.

With the help of a local archivist, Ms. Judith (Marcia Derousse), Dana discovers the folklore behind her newest find – a room where deformed children are hidden away from the public eye, named simply, the disappointments room. As she starts seeing visions of an old stern distinguished man (Gerald McRaney) with a black dog appearing in the premises, along with floating kites and fleeting shots of a running girl, Dana starts to question her reality.

This is the equivalent of the Pen-Pineapple-Apple-Pen phenomena. Caruso had a haunted house. Caruso had a grieving mother. UH – haunted grieving mother. That’s it. The horror genre really deserves a lot more respect and finesse than the director has applied to the film.

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Setting a story in a Tudor-style house plastered by a drunk Gaudi isn’t going to make it more horrifying. Having ghostly apparitions and jump sequences isn’t going to make it horrifying. Finding mysterious gravestones, paintings and that room – I repeat –  isn’t going to make it horrifying. Horror relies a lot on connecting the audience to the characters, so that we can be sympathetic and experience the fear that they go through – and a sleepwalking Beckinsale isn’t the best candidate for that.

Even though we find out early that a certain infant daughter’s passing mars the family and that this move was to help them heal, we never really muster the empathy for this disjointed family. David seemingly just plays with his son all day, leaving a cold Dana to wander around the house, unravelling. And when discoveries are found and investigations are done, the family does not share much of these experiences together. It’s almost like they were in two separate movies.

The contrived father and son characters aside, one might think throwing in appearances like the local grocer, archivist or even handsome handyman Ben (Lucas Till) might give the story some web of emotional story support. The chemistry is slightly better here but surprisingly, they are introduced and then disappear without cause or change. There’s enough red herrings here to fill a year’s catch.

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A build-up scene later in the movie had the enigmatic Ms Judith finding and linking up grisly newspaper clippings. She calls the family to warn them but they don’t answer. She replaces the phone, sighs, and then disappears for the rest of the movie. In another scene, Ben was instructed to dig up a gravestone (that Dana found early in the movie but only wanted removed at the end) but wound up being bludgeoned to death by an unknown assailant. When Dana looks out for him in the area, he’s nowhere to be found – even up to the credits.

The movie’s climactic breakdown scene at the dinner table was an embarrassing non-event. Beckinsale enters – drunk or tired, I can’t tell – and goes on an illogical tirade against the guests and her husband. The acting is textbook and flat, with no crescendo and completely out of tune. When she finally starts smashing crockery and the husband coddles her, we’re thinking – next!

Even though The Disappointment Room has moments of thoughtful cinematography and clearly wants to do a light homage to the legendary The Shining (degenerating lead, young boy with red ball, girl in corridors), someone at Relativity Media needs to know what films can save them from another bankruptcy. By the end of the movie, as the car pulls away from the driveway, the state of affairs is such that it’s almost like the whole thing never happened.

Rating: 1*

Lacking tension coupled with numerous foreshadowing with no payout – The Disappointments Room needs to lock itself up behind that door and this time, someone please – throw away the key.

The film is currently showing at all Golden Village, Cathay and Filmgarde cinemas.

First published: www.moviexclusive.com 

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