1 Hour and 44 Minutes of an Outdated Formula That Brings Zero Creativity and Ingenuity to the Horror Genre
By Cameron Enzor
Los Angeles, CA (The Hollywood Times) 4/11/22 – I’d like to start by stating that I dislike writing negative reviews. As an artist, I can understand and empathize with the commitment, time, & sweat that goes into working on a project. Which is why it always pains me when the negatives outweigh the positives. But, it’s all a part of the process just like our successes, and it should be treated as such.
How about this, I’ll start with the positive, work my way through the negatives, then end on a positive note. Because at the end of the day, constructive criticism with a positive intent is much more useful than a snarky “I didn’t like it and here’s why” blog.
Room 203 is directed by Ben Jagger, based upon the novel Room 203 by Nanami Kamon. John Poliquin and Nick Richey also appear under the writing credits (Along with Ben Jagger), though I am unsure since this is an adaptation, how much of the script was built off the source material, and how much of it was interpretation.
The film follows an aspiring journalist Kim (Francesca Xuereb) leaving her manipulative household to live with her friend Izzy (Viktoria Vinyarska) & further pursue her education in journalism. As they arrive in their newly bought apartment, they are soon to learn that they will fall victim to a sinister wave of events that’s generations in the making.
I would say that this film’s empathic premise between our two main characters could have been a great guideline towards a serious drama. It deals with a lot of real heavy themes like addiction, & leaves a lot of smaller themes available for relatability and personal connection with the characters and their scenarios that they face. Definitely a lot of room for a writer(s) to add themselves to the story & give it a multi-layered & more developed tone.
Looking at this picture in its entirety, I feel strongly to segregate certain topics (like technicalities & Formulas etc..) to address each topic in an artistically more organized approach, rather than spewing out everything all at once.
What I mean by “formula” is the structure of which this story adopts, as well as borrowed elements that show up through the film inspired by the horror genre’s predecessors.
What I couldn’t help asking myself while watching this movie was “Why does it feel like they’re playing it so close to formula?” And this question popped itself multiple times due to numerous reoccurring horror movie themes, cliché’s, story structures, and overall executions (Filmmaking executions just to be clear, not meaning literal on-screen deaths lol)
I came to the conclusion that predictability is the sole root for this constant question of mine, because after I watched the film I concurred
“So the movie starts off with an origin of our inanimate antagonist demonstrating the level of intensity that should be expected at the least. Then there was the motive and introduction of our main character while setting the scene as to why our character is moving into a new environment which also establishes our main character’s further story direction. We then see the move-in, introducing ominous themes and hints at a constant, the red flags and warning signs that should be expected and so forth.
We are then re-introduced to our antagonist and are starting the slow burn into a well expected bigger dilemma. Then establishing minor MacGuffins (or just small character story arcs) along with the overall plot to try to give some internal conflicts and drama within the overall story.
Then comes the unraveling, (Since Horror & Mystery nearly go hand in hand) as well as developing small side characters, tension is suggested when Character A (in this case, Kim) does something that will conflict with character B (Izzy) and then rises the tension from our antagonist (Character C) to be the Big Bang after the conflicting MacGuffin finishes. Then, as both characters A & B are at odds & are having to deal with Character C, the overall conflict brings them back together for a somewhat uplifting conclusion after the climax (Dismantlement of Character C).”
Now, we’ve seen this story structure many times. But, that’s not necessarily the issue. The issue is the lack of tissue. Yes I said that right. You know, the stuff that’s called skin that covers up our nearly identical skeletons (in this case, the skeleton being the structure). The tissue that makes us individual from one another and nearly unmistakable, giving us a sense of identity. The story had nearly none of such things. They implied the below-minimum which are the motives, and blanket statement agendas for both our main characters. Without any constant character development (incline/decline) or really establishing them fully as complex and/or established individuals.
Now you say, “But Cameron, horror doesn’t need that. Horror needs scares! Horror needs things that are going to throw us out of our seat! Make us go crazy! We want to get f*cked up watching a horror film! Not watch a character drama!”
Yes, you’re right! Which In this case, Room 203 does not get right. I’ll continue.
(Or lack there-of)
Now we have an idea of the bones that have been implemented for this story, let’s take a look at the rest of the elements of our overall body.
For as long as horror has been around, empathy has always played a big part in most of Horror’s notable accomplishments. But here’s the tricky thing about horror, & this is where a lot of aspiring horror-makers flunk the scare test. The presence of empathy is transparent. Nearly completely inverted. From examples like The Exorcist, A Nightmare on Elm Street 2, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining, The Blair Witch Project, just to name a few.
These are pinpointed examples of Horror’s ability to reverse empathy. They give us that feeling of total blackness inside while we watch it, where consciously we’ve already been swooped in by the story and locked in a cage by it where there’s near zero escape, even to the point of it lingering some time after the film is over, as we unravel ourselves out of the clusterf*ck the film mentally put us in.
Within the last 10-15 years, applying empathy (not inverted) has been a growing trend in modern horror. The ability to balance a rather emotionally driven story that’s primarily a Horror film is tricky. Because (if done improperly), you’re risking giving the option for an audience member to invest themselves, by establishing subtle (or broad) emotional values that adhere relatable or comfortable to convince the audience to invest. In simpler words, you’re telling them “I want you to feel this” and depending how good you are at negotiating, (and also the tolerance of the viewer) they may say “Okay” or “Nope”
Such films who share the template are Scream, Hellraiser, The Conjuring, Stephen King’s The Shining (TV adaptation), A Nightmare on Elm Street (Original), Saw, and a couple other great ones that show tremendous practice in this. (For continuity I’m excluding non-horror examples for the sake of me actually going back to the actual review)
Also, The world that Ben Jagger created in this film is very much based in a gritty reality. And when you introduce a big thematic setting and a series of elements, you have to have insight on the potential rules that may follow. Because subconsciously, most of us know these rules one way or another. They are easy to break, and when broken ruins the whole magic trick of making something fantasy seem “scary” (or any emotion/effect for that matter)
Within this overall gritty and grounded reality, what breaks this is the lack of logic and common sense. But how do movies like A Nightmare on Elm Street (The whole franchise) Hellraiser, and countless others defy logic yet they’re still entertaining and sometimes good? How does that work?
It’s because the necessary artists/writers took the attention and credibility to world building. Setting up the reality (Either slightly modified, or modified intensely) and making a cohesive fabric that convinces individuals subconsciously that “If not in my reality, in perhaps another reality this could exist” because of the detail and adherence to what they’ve created.
When a film takes itself seriously, and has a desired outcome, (like a bad poker player) you can read it, and immediately YOU gain the upper hand, then the magic trick has failed.
Throughout Room 203, the serious/gritty tone mixed with a lack of logic and heightened predictability gave it a really dull and almost comedic (and not in a good way) outcome. It’s the evidence of bad, inconsistent, and tunnel-vision writing incarnate. Metaphorically speaking, the “skin” just falls right off the bone. It doesn’t stick.
This also results in an identity crisis, where the overall picture doesn’t have a thematic end goal, where it’s dominance is split instead of a series of primal factors coloring everything else with a similar shade that comes beneath it. Great examples of near-perfect balance are like Scream &
The Conjuring. Scream is more (Horror Ft. Comedy & fun) & The Conjuring could be argued to be more dominant in (Horror Ft. Family & Love)
When you go to a movie, you’re either convinced or you aren’t. Doesn’t matter the genre, either the writing does it’s job, or it doesn’t. For Room 203, (as I also hinted at in my positive point much earlier in this review) there’s a lot of emphasis and desired focus on intimate character storylines ahead of the overall premise that give you a conflicted perspective on what you should feel and how you should feel it.
Especially when those potential investments are being challenged by the antagonist, if as an audience member you’re gonna know that Character A is gonna get into some bad sh*t, you’re really not going to genuinely invest into /They/He/her. Why? Because that means if you do, you’ll possibly be hurt. And we don’t want to make a conscious decision that we know will get us hurt. (Psssst, that’s why you *filmmakers/Artists* need to fool us!)
(Or lack there-of)
Down to the technicalities and the nitty gritty, there was an overwhelming sense of a lack of creativity (That rhymed lol). From the writing not taking advantage of the palette of colors it has to work with, to the directing being very blanketed like as if the director is afraid to get creative with the materials he/she has to work with, to the audio department & composer walking over one another because of no proper audible balance between the two, there’s a lot to nit pick here.
Personally, at the end of the day, I look at the director. The “See Something, Say Something” motto should be used in film for directors as well, because if you’re composing a piece of music, if you’re painting a picture, if you’re sculpting something, your job is to utilize the materials you have to get the greatest possible result. Film has the upper hand in this, because you also have colleagues who can aid and get involved as they should be. But, an orchestra needs a conductor, and if Room 203 was an orchestra, Then the conductor apparently never left the bathroom during the show.
And also, in the world (well, parts of it) that celebrate the idea of choice of religion without penalty (Since the rule of Catholicism to an extent is no longer dictated), the idea of demonizing & manipulating Paganism is on a level of ignorance when we have access to an unbiased lense.
And when knowing that this day and age, a portion of your audience are either free-neutral-thinkers or even Pagans, using the term itself just proves a bit foolish. The ones who would be anything close to “scared” when the antagonists premise is introduced to be such, would probably result in only devoted Catholics and/or atheists who haven’t had the education on the topic.
Overall, this film depends on everything but itself. The visual direction depends on the actors and the idea of what’s happening in order to be impactful, & the script depends on ignorance & the absence of logic from the audience in order to try and have an effect.
Even at this point, Creativity could have solved all of this. Think about it off topic for a second, it doesn’t matter the material, what matters is what you do with it. Because if I were to pitch to you the idea of the movie “Christine” you’d think I’m absolutely nuts!
In smaller words, Room 203 doesn’t carry its own weight.
With the lack of creative direction, weak executions through most of the production departments & with no stable sense of identity, Room 203 doesn’t justify its existence with what it brings to the table (or lack of things it brings) when it comes to the Horror genre & Film as a whole.
Room 203 will appear in selected cities April 15, 2022, including New York City (The Kent Theater), Chicago (Emagine Chatham), Ft. Worth and Dallas (American Cinemas). The same day, Room 203 will be available nationwide on all major VOD platforms, including iTunes, Prime Video, DirecTV, Cox, Time Warner, Dish, Vudu, and Google Play.