The Austin Chronicle

The Disappointments Room

Rated R, 92 min. Directed by D.J. Caruso. Starring Kate Beckinsale, Lucas Till, Michaela Conlin, Michael Landes, Gerald McRaney, Mel Raido.

REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., Sept. 16, 2016

You’ve seen this movie before, many times, in various iterations with woefully diminishing returns, scare-wise, and so let’s just say The Disappointments Room is aptly titled. I’d like to think in an alternate universe, it’s the attic in Bleak House where master of horror and humanity Guillermo del Toro closets away his cinematic phantasms, notions that didn’t … quite … work. But that’s quantum speculation on my part and doesn’t really apply to this moldering, yawn-inducing, psychological spookshow retread in which Kate Beckinsale, she of the preposterously more entertaining – and apparently eternal, seeing as how a new chapter is hot on our heels – vamps vs. werewolves Underworld franchise – is cast as Dana, a mentally shattered mother who has recently lost her infant daughter and is struggling to move past that trauma.

As part of her therapy, she and husband David (Raido), along with pre-teen son Lucas (Joiner), flee the teeming chaos of Manhattan and move to a dilapidated English Tudor manse right in the heart of Shirley Jacksonville, U.S.A. Dana, an architect, has plans to fix the place up, but first there’s the question of a mysterious locked room that goes unnoted on the house’s original floor plan: the titular room of woe. Soon enough, Dana begins seeing phantom children scurrying about, doors that close by themselves, and a parade of horrible, hoary “old dark house” cliches that were better done in The Old Dark House. (And that was in 1932.)

The conundrum director Caruso and scripter Wentworth Miller want very badly to posit is essentially this: Is Dana experiencing a psychotic break instigated by her grief, or are the ghostly denizens of “the disappointments room” really real? And ultimately, who cares? Despite the brooding tone of the film and Rogier Stoffers’ gloom-laden cinematography, this Room is devoid of any real shocks other than cheap ones, and a series of third-act revelations (kinda/sorta) revolving around the previous owner of the sprawling estate and the (dire!) history of the house are too little too late. The film is a muddle all the way through, although audience antiquarian architects will know going in that a “disappointment room” is an actual thing that exists outside of, say, H.P. Lovecraft’s ichthyopocene Arkham. The term refers to those shuttered rooms where, in centuries past, families would lock up their mentally or physically enfeebled relations, the better to keep those particular familial skeletons buried until they could be, you know, buried. Quaint in a Charles Addams sort of way, I suppose, but that bit of trivia aside, The Disappointments Room lives (and dies) up to its name.

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