Given how easy it is to dramatize ghost encounters, the paranormal subgenre has become horror’s deepest mixed-bag of results. A good zombie movie requires flesh-rotting makeup, and slasher flicks demand artistically grotesque gore, but any average Joe or Jane can string together a few spiritual scares.
Slam some doors, shut some windows, make objects fly around a room – you know, that Paranormal Activity knock-off garbage – and finito! Just look at Jason Stutter’s The Dead Room. Costs are low because one rickety shack acts as the film’s single setting, and only three actors have to pretend something nasty is chasing them. Paranormal Activity made a cool profit doing the same, so why not The Dead Room?
Well, because it’s weightless, derivative, recycled genre boredom that makes even 75 minutes feel like a horror fan’s personal Hell.
When a spooked family flees their isolated New Zealand farmhouse, three paranormal investigators are called in to assess the situation. There’s a young psychic, Holly (Laura Petersen), the tech wiz, Liam (Jed Brophy), and the resident skeptical scientist, Scott (Jeffrey Thomas). Together, they rig their new abode with motion-detecting cameras, hoping to catch visual proof of supernatural life. Snagging physical evidence is every ghost hunter’s dream, but when Scott’s wishes begin to come true, Holly suggests it’d be smarter to abandon the mission while they still can – a warning that falls on deaf ears.
Scott’s reckless optimism comes as no shock, because he’s the contrarian plant meant to belittle Holly’s spiritual wisdom (even when caught in a nasty paranormal windstorm). Holly continually describes a gigantic lumbering apparition who runs through the house every night around 3AM, but Scott never seems to find a problem with this continued occurrence. Even when the ghost punches holes in the wall, and throws a dinner table through an unopened window, Scott coyly smiles, going on about how if the spirit wanted to hurt them, it would have already. He’s the stereotypical horror character who gets everyone killed, because genre movies apparently don’t exists in any genre movie character’s world. YOU SCREW WITH GHOSTS, BAD THINGS HAPPEN. That’s horror 101! But, sure – let’s keep pushing characters who can’t help but be the damnedest bit curious.
Of course, that’s just one example of the horrendous genre generics found effortlessly lumbering about The Dead Room. It’s one thing to live a mundane life of easily plotted jumps, but Stutter’s lack of inspiration is far more disappointing than usual. The cyclical fashion that constrains these dimwitted researchers asserts itself after the very first night, when a few chandeliers swing back and forth. Then comes night two, where the same swinging occurs, but this time with an opening door! I KNOW, RIGHT!? Oh, and don’t even get me started on night three! Some furniture moves around, and guess what, THEN THEY ALL GO BACK TO SLEEP. AGAIN! Interior decorating by way of invisible spirit – my worst nightmare.
Cheapening the deal to eye-rolling levels of ho-hum complacency, Stutter never materializes his heavy-footed haunter. Every damn night, all we get is Holly rambling on about what she sees. Actors are asked to run away form nothing, react to nothing, and be scared of absolutely nothing – which dictates performances that lack any intensity or terror. It’s all a bit cartoonish, and not in a joyfully invigorating kind of way.
Laura Petersen makes the most of a few “close encounters” with her invisible stalker, but neither Jed Brophy or Jeffrey Thomas strike much of a theatrical impact. Hell, even found-footage might have livened things up a bit – THAT’S how dire a situation we’re talking.
To wrap things up, a “shocking” ending concludes with one of the 7 Deadly Sins Of Horror Filmmaking, which acts as the 37th nail in this beaten-to-shit coffin. You’ve visited haunted houses that are more hair-raising than The Dead Room, probably when your local public library switched its lights off and let the librarians dress up like witches. Cinematography ain’t worth a lick when not a single shot of ambition finds itself injected into a by-the-numbers farce that’s more side-show attraction than affecting horror movie, but, well, it could be worse – just not by much.
The Dead Room is a haunted endeavor better left unexplored, as it's marred by a soul-sucking lack of ambition.