The ghost story remain a reliable prototype for aspiring horror filmmakers. Simply deliver the spooky goods in the proper way and you can hook an audience in. The Dead Room, a 2015 ghost story from New Zealand, proves that you don’t have to reinvent the form to get the job done. Though it traffics in familiar tropes for this subgenre, it moves along with a sense of economical style that ensures it remains potent to the end.
The Dead Room focuses on a trio of people exploring a suspected haunted house located in an isolated wilderness area. Scott (Jeffrey Thomas) is the science-minded leader of the group, Liam (Jed Brophy) is the happy-go-lucky tech who assists him and Holly (Laura Petersen) is the goth-ish medium who is brought in as a kind of bloodhound to help them sniff out the supposed ghost. Said ghost subtly announces its presence and ups the poltergeist ante as Scott holds the line, determined to get conclusive proof. The longer they stay, the greater the danger becomes – and the haunting they’re dealing with is more complex than any of them might imagine.
Don’t expect a lot of surprises from The Dead Room. The characters are all stock ghost story types – the science-obsessed skeptic, the likeable nerd, the edgy paranormal specialist – and the plot follows a pretty standard progression, hinging on a final twist that viewers will find either acceptable or frustrating in its familiar nature. That ending is a sticking point for a lot of people and it’s kind of disappointing that the filmmakers didn’t push for a more complex or surprising capper.
That said, it’s the craft that keeps The Dead Room interesting. Director/editor/co-writer Jason Stutter understands the stylistic mechanics of his chosen plotline and pulls them off effectively, keeping the pacing lean (the film runs 78 minutes) yet going for a slow-burn approach that gets the audience leaning forwards. He build a nice atmosphere with a subtly moody score by Plan9 and strong photography by Grant Atkinson that draws a nice contrast between the house’s creepy interior and the lovely wilderness outside. When the time comes for shocks, Shutter also shows a likeable fondness for physical effects rather than CGI overkill.
Good performances also help. As stated before, the characters are all stock types but the cast digs into those types with conviction. Thomas brings a gravitas to his disbeliever role, managing to make him less strident than this kind of character usually is, Brophy brings a down-to-earth charm to the assistant role and Petersen conveys a mixture of attitude and fear without overdoing either side of that combo.
In short, The Dead Room sticks close to ghost story conventions and has an ending you might not like but the craftsmanship and concise, effective style make it worth a look for those who love this subgenre.
Blu-Ray Notes: Scream Factory issued this title on blu-ray as part of their IFC Midnight line. The transfer handles both the lush daytime exteriors and the dark house interiors with aplomb and the lossless 5.1 stereo mix is a well-crafted affair with plenty of eerie multi-speaker activity. The one extra is a trailer.