Review: ‘The Oak Room’

A Slow Burn Thriller That Is More Slow Than Thriller

Paul (Peter Outerbridge) was closing down his bar one snowy Canadian night when he gets quite the surprise in The Oak Room. A masked stranger enters in from the cold, near blizzard, outside. Before Paul gets a chance to bash his head in for causing trouble, Steve (RJ Mitte) takes off the mask. That leads to Paul wanting to still bash his head in, but for different reasons. Turns out Steve and Paul have quite a bit of history. History that doesn’t end well.

Steve used to work for Paul and then disappeared one day, well disappeared in Paul’s eyes, went to school in Steve’s. His educational stint was short-lived, and Steve has been drifting ever since. Paul was close with Steve’s father Gordon (Nicholas Campbell). Gordon died worrying about Steve, who didn’t even make it to the funeral. Which in Paul’s eye was unforgivable.

Paul immediately questions Steve’s intentions in coming back. He was the one that buried Gordon and has most of his things, so assumes that’s what Steve is after. Only problem is Steve owes him money, and fair is fair right? Steve has another proposition, to tell Paul a story. A story about two strangers – Richard (Martin Roach) and Michael (Ari Millen) – meeting at a bar called The Oak Room. A story that he thinks Steve will find particularly interesting.

The Oak Room, written by Peter Genoway and directed by Cody Calahan, is a slow burn. Genoway and Calahan go back and forth in the narrative with Steve and Paul in present day, then reverting to Steve’s story. There is a very limited cast and only two sets (both bars) for almost the entire film. Genoway and Calahan make the most of this and the solid acting from the entire cast paved the way. No one stood out, nor was any performance incredibly memorable, but everyone did an admirable job. Definitely enough to keep the film progressing.

The Oak Room is driven primarily by dialogue. There were parts where the interactions just felt strange. Paul would change from friendly to aggressive seemingly at the drop of a hat. Steve would go from petrified to instigator at the snap of a finger. Their relationship felt uneasy, not only because of their past, but because of the portrayal given.

Calahan adds some great camera angels and shots – slow pans, zooms, and interesting framing – that help add dread. There is an ominous feeling that I couldn’t seem to shake. The music and use of lighting help to perpetuate that ominous atmosphere. As Steve continues his story, it only intensifies. The Oak Room is a mystery/thriller at its core and almost the entirety of the film is centered around buildup. Unfortunately, the payoff is not worth the wait, making the film ultimately fall flat. It is worth a watch, but not one that you’ll feel the need to come back to.