The angst of not knowing what comes next or that feeling of being on the edge of your seat – these are the reactions filmmakers aim for when making a compelling thriller. It is that journey through their clue ridden maze that will eventually lead you to that all gripping and satisfying conclusion. Director Cody Calahan’s new film The Oak Room exhibits all the traits of an enthralling mystery: mood, lighting, tempo but falls short on the most vital which is the overall story. The cast although small each bring something to their characters that drives the curiosity factor as well as the aura to tread lightly. RJ Mitte (Breaking Bad) tops the list as a wanderer who finds himself back in a familiar old bar during a vicious snow storm.
The film is overall vague on its premise with the only clues lent by the initial interaction between Steve, played by Mitte, and the bartender Paul, played by Peter Outerbridge. Their dialogue and attitudes towards each other paints a very tense, begrudging picture between the two but that all seems to be thrown away once Steve starts to tell Paul a story. The story Steve tells about another bartender and wanderer in itself is captivating but led me to question “why am I watching this?” This thinking only prevailed everything following because we just jump from one story to the next all the while I was thinking why does Paul have such a disdain for Steve. The tension is later explained through a story involving Steve’s father Gordon, played by Nicholas Campbell, but I still did not believe it filled the gaps between Steve and Paul’s relationship. The most intriguing of the cast was the labeled hitman Michael, played by Ari Millen (Orphan Black), but even his character is not given a proper payoff.
I feel Calahan was going for a big shocker twist moment by the film’s conclusion but it was more reminiscent of a dud. Whatever small details were thrown in at the beginning are long forgotten about without mention and the payoff seemingly never comes leaving you on the hook. The entire film broke down seemingly to one scene from the Robert Rodriguez film Desperado where Steve Buscemi’s character tells a bar full of criminals the massacre he just witnessed at another bar only for El Mariachi’s character to then walk through their doors. Calahan should have gone for a more in your face, abrupt confrontation opposed to the lingering, ominous threat of what is to come and most importantly, why.
2 out of 5