What if you made a stylish horror movie but forgot to make it scary?
You’d have THE DISAPPOINTMENTS ROOM (2016), a horror movie now available on Netflix Streaming.
Dana Barrow (Kate Beckinsale), her husband David (Mel Raido), and their young son Lucas (Duncan Joiner) move into their new home, an elegant manor in the countryside. They are looking for a fresh start in life as they recently suffered a devastating tragedy.
Dana is an architect and plans to work on the house, while David, when he’s not off on business trips, spends his days with their son Lucas. Dana discovers a mysterious room on the top floor of the house, a room that is not in the home’s original plans. When she starts hearing strange noises in the middle of the night, as well as catching glimpses of people inside the house, she begins to suspect the house is haunted.
She learns that the room on the upper floor of their home is most likely a “disappointments” room, a place where a century before families would hide children they deemed as “disappointments,” children suffering from either physical deformities or mental disorders.
When the spiritual and physical worlds collide, and young Lucas’ life is threatened, Dana takes matters into her own hands to save him. But her efforts are hindered by her own psychological issues, as she struggles to distinguish between what is real and what is imagined. Is Lucas really in danger? Or is it all just in her head?
The biggest knock against THE DISAPPOINTMENTS ROOM is that it is yet another haunted house/ghost story movie. There have been so many of these movies of late, unless it’s the best I’ve ever seen, a film with this plot has a lot going against it because it’s extremely difficult to keep fresh at this point. And THE DISAPPOINTMENTS ROOM is not fresh. What it has to offer in terms of ghost story plot is nothing new, and this definitely works against the movie.
Early on, there were parts of this film that reminded me of the classic chiller THE CHANGELING (1980) starring George C. Scott, but that film benefitted from some genuine scares and a shocking reveal. THE DISAPPOINTMENTS ROOM has neither.
What it does have are solid acting performances and a steady directorial hand by director D.J. Caruso.
Caruso, who also directed the teen adventure I AM NUMBER FOUR (2011) and the thriller DISTURBIA (2007), sets the mood early on with some creepy scenes, like the strange black dog that keeps showing up outside the home, and the eerie spectral figures which Dana sees. And the film looks good throughout, even as the story ultimately fails to build to a satisfying climax.
The screenplay by director Caruso and Wentworth Miller [an actor known mostly for his starring role on the TV series PRISON BREAK (2005-2009) and the current mini-series PRISON BREAK: RESURRECTION (2017)] adds the disappointments room to the haunted house plot, and early on this was enough to hold my attention, but as the story evolves, and we learn more about the events which led to the haunting of this house, things become less interesting.
The potential for a nifty psychological thriller is certainly there but it doesn’t quite happen because the film only hints at the darkness inside Dana’s head. It could be ghosts. It could be imagined. It could be a little bit of both. The film never really makes up its mind, and it’s a weaker vehicle for it.
The film definitely plays like a dark drama rather than a horror movie. As such, it’s a pretty good example of quiet horror.
But what it fails to do is reach the next level. The climax of the film is certainly disturbing, but then what follows is a standard “I’ve got to save my son” sequence which is ultimately a let down, and this is followed by a tepid ending which doesn’t do the movie any favors.
But as I said the acting is solid. I really enjoyed Kate Beckinsale in the lead as Dana.It was so much more fun to watch her here than in those awful UNDERWORLD movies. She makes Dana believable, and she seems like a woman with a tortured past who is now thrust into a ghost story conundrum. That being said, considering what Dana believes she did in the past, her character should have been even more fragile and unhinged than she is here.
There’s a parallel between Beckinsale’s Dana and the father of the child in the disappointments room, Judge Blacker (Gerald McRaney). But just how alike they are is never satisfactorily explored. Like so many other things in this movie, it’s only hinted at.
Mel Raido does a nice job as Dana’s level-headed husband, David. He’s the voice of reason who continually works to keep his wife grounded in reality.
Gerald McRaney doesn’t do much more than look menacing as the ghostly Judge Blacker, but he does it so well.
THE DISAPPOINTMENTS ROOM looks better than a lot of the other recent haunted house/ghost story movies of late, and it doesn’t suffer from the atrocious plot twists that some of those other flicks have, but ultimately it doesn’t really add anything of note to make it stand out.
And while it does provide a rather nasty revelation towards the end, what follows is a by-the-numbers conclusion.
All in all, THE DISAPPOINTMENTS ROOM is a ghost story drama that will hold your interest for a while before it ultimately fizzles, settling gently into its quiet world of stylized mediocrity.