I have something better than cash….I have a story.The Oak Room
So I am sucker for Canadian Horror. It tends to be intellectual, rhetorical, and subtle. Three things that tend to appeal directly to my sensibilities. The Oak Room by director Cody Calahan proved to have all three qualities while giving a treatise on how to tell a story. On top of all of that it is ‘snow storm horror’ which is my absolute favorite subgenre that I just created. More Canadian Horror that takes place in a snowstorm (looking at you Pontypool) please. Can we start calling this Yukon Horror. It is a good label right? While the movie doesn’t necessarily track with traditional definitions of horror it embraces thriller tropes with aplomb (If you want to call it horror, go for it. My tent is large). Regardless of where it fits denotatively it is a beautiful film that largely accomplishes all of its goals.
R.J. Mitte of Breaking Bad fame plays our slightly down on his luck hero Steve who returns to town to both reconcile his family drama and check on an old debt. His slightly dopey portrayal brings with it a charm and guilelessness that really works, especially as some of these superficial qualities fade away to what lies underneath. The surrounding characters that take place in other parts of the story seem purposefully archetypal which helps drive home that The Oak Room is really about how we tell stories and not necessarily about the story itself.
The bulk of the plot of the Oak Room plays out of order throwing the audience off balance from the get go. As a result the movie despite having very little action feels a bit like a roller coaster. Calahan wants to make the audience feel uncomfortable and as a result a movie that feels like it could turn out very slow moves at a much quicker pace. By the end I was left feeling a bit like The Oak Room was a caper film without a caper. While that sounds strange it is not intended to be a slight rather that the conceit of the film is not a bank to be robbed or a painting to be stolen but rather a story to be told.
The entirety of the movie takes place in a couple of different bars. These bars have a homey warmth while maintaining a threatening air of masculinity. In short they feel like a number of bars I have been to as they near last call. It is this duality that sell the story to the audience. Bars and bartenders are the places and folks we turn to to swap our stories. It is the natural evolution of these atmospheres that accentuate the story the Oak Room.
I am also a fan of horror films that could easily be re-imagined as stage plays. This film’s intimate set design places great importance on the actors and their choices. The movie depends entirely on the performances of the characters. From the profane Paul (Peter Outerbridge) who seems to be channeling late stage Mark Hammil –to the cool and slightly hostile Michael (Ari Millen) each supporting actor offers something extra in a film that could have ended up feeling VERY talky talky without that nuance. As a result of the quicker pace and inventive storytelling the movie ends up feeling like a trip to a local dive bar and meeting a stranger there with a story to tell, exactly what The Oak Room sets out to do. The Oak Room is a masterclass in how to tell a story.
Check it out today as part of Fantasia Film Festival 2020.
Tyler has been the editor in chief of Signal Horizon since its conception. He is also the Director of Monsters 101 at Truman State University a class that pairs horror movie criticism with survival skills to help middle and high school students learn critical thinking. When he is not watching, teaching or thinking about horror he is the Director of Debate and Forensics at a high school in Kansas City, Missouri.