As much as we all love a big superhero flick, a loud, spectacle-filled adventure, sometimes it’s nice to get wrapped up in a smaller film. Cody Calahan’s The Oak Room is small, but mighty; a twisty and fascinating film with a classic set up.
Paul (Peter Outerbridge) owns a little bar in a small, remote town in Canada currently ravaged by a snowstorm. Paul is grumpy and his bar is dingy, one of those famous dive bars we’ve seen in films before. Paul’s night goes from quiet to rather interesting when Steve (RJ Mitte) walks into his bar and offers to tell him a story. And what a story it turns out to be…
Calahan’s film is based on Peter Genoway’s play of the same name and Genoway also provided the script for the film. At times Calahan’s film feels a little stage-y, especially in its set up. The Oak Room is a film about stories and storytellers; there are stories within stories, and for a thriller, it’s heavy on the dialogue. But Calahan also smartly creates plenty of tension where needed to keep the audience guessing.
Genoway’s script smartly plays with how much information is given to Paul and to the audience. We often discover everything at the same time as Paul and there is constantly a sense that there is more to Steve and the story he is telling than meets the eye. It’s clear from the moment Steve walks in Paul’s establishment that there will be an explosive twist at the end. It’s not a spoiler to say so; The Oak Room is clearly designed to keep you guessing. Often working like a puzzle with a missing piece, eagerly waiting to discover it so you can complete the image.
Even if the eventual twist is relatively simple and straightforward – it doesn’t take much to guess it – the journey to the conclusion is exhilarating. It’s exactly this that makes The Oak Room a good film, it never relies simply on the end result but makes sure that what comes before is better and more interesting. Paul and Steve’s dynamic builds fascinatingly and there is a heavy feel of history to both characters as snippets of their relationship and past are revealed through dialogue.
Mitte and Outerbridge are perfect in their roles. Mitte has been working steadily since his impressive turn in the hit TV show Breaking Bad, but somehow hasn’t quite become a household name. It’s a shame, because he proves here to be a charismatic and interesting actor, with plenty to show. Outerbridge is equally great and the two have chemistry for days that keeps The Oak Room moving, even when the plot threatens to stall.
While The Oak Room is interesting and tense, it never quite breaks free from it’s stage origins. It’s not shocking enough, not cinematic enough to really capture your interest and hold it through to the end. It needed one more push, another layer to surprise the viewer with. It’s still a great little thriller to get stuck in, but it lacks the originality and shock value required to make it memorable.
The Oak Room will available on Digital Download from 26th April and can be pre-ordered here