Fantasia 2020 Review: The Oak Room

The Oak Room demonstrates just how effective good old fashioned horror storytelling can be.

Canadian horror film The Oak Room is a perfect example of how a well-delivered story can be just as terrifying as any monster or serial killer.

On a wintry Ontario night after years spent out of town, the wayward Steve (Breaking Bad’s RJ Mitte) returns to the local water hole, frequented by his late father and proceeds to spin a yarn to the weary bartender Paul (Peter Outerbridge). Overheard from an acquaintance, he spins the supposedly true story of a man (Martin Roach) who arrives at a small-town dive bar, similar to the one they currently occupy. Having had his car breakdown in the middle of a blizzard and clad in a suit and dress shoes, the man is unprepared for the weather. Arriving at the bar with a bloodied hand, he’s confronted by a hostile bartender (Ari Millen) as the two engage in a bit of rural vs. big city talk, revealing one of these men has a pretty sinister backstory.

When the story comes to an abrupt end, it’s Paul’s turn to tell an eerie tale before Steve brings everything full circle as his story comes to a nail-biting conclusion in director Cody Calahan’s film.

It’s easy to see how The Oak Room got its start as a play at the 2013 Toronto Fringe Festival which featured Millen in the same role. This is an immersive film that hinges on its actors and their ambiguous characters who add just the right amount of drama and intrigue into the sparse tale by Peter Genoway. Here, Mitte is a fantastic storyteller opposite Outerbridge, with each men engaging the viewer on a retelling of events based on a single location. The intertwining stories meander like a drunk, inviting the viewer to continue asking “and then what?” as the film builds upon its layers until the final grim conclusion with shocking violence.

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While the script and delivery are paramount, so is the cinematography here by Jeff Maher which adds layers to the film’s darkness.  The neon lights behind the bar add to the oppressive winter atmosphere, creating a visually interesting space in what is otherwise a pretty standard dive bar where the majority of the action takes place.

While horror aficionados might see some of the curves The Oak Room’s is throwing before it arrives there, the twisting and twisty story still makes for a satisfying thriller.

The Oak Room screens as part of Fantasia’s 2020 virtual lineup.

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