Horror Movie Marathon: Day 2 – The Dead Room

[SPOILER ALERT!]     The Dead Room     [SPOILER ALERT!]

“When a terrified family flees a desolate southern New Zealand farmhouse, two cynical scientists and a young psychic are sent to investigate their claims of a haunting. There, they encounter a powerful spirit that will protect the house’s secrets at all costs.” IMDB

Day Two! The full moon rises over the river*. We sit in our dimly lit living room and select The Dead Room (2016), which is based on a New Zealand urban legend. I haven’t heard of this movie before.

The Dead Room is rated TV-MA and is available on Netflix. At the time of our viewing, it has the following online ratings:

IMDB rating 4.7/10

Metacritic – unavailable

Rotten Tomatoes – critics unavailable, 23% audience

Mikey is fighting an early fall cold and I am exhausted from the events of the past few days. We watch the movie without interruption and with minimal commentary from my place on the couch. We both take notes throughout the movie and send our chosen questions to one another via Google Docs afterward. Below, you can find his responses to my questions. He’s posting my responses to his questions here, on his website.

Solee: The first movie we watched was found footage. What horror movie sub-genre would you say The Dead Room belongs in?

Mikey: This is a pretty classic model right here, which often is done via found footage – I’m not sure the short name for it, but it’s “family hires ghost hunters to investigate their house”. They also all roughly go the same: the ghost hunters think either that there’s no ghost or that it’s some simple easy ghost like they know how to handle, but of course in the end, this is something much worse than they ever even knew was possible. Happens every time!  Watch movies and learn, ghost hunters!  This is a perfect sub-genre for found footage, since the ghost hunting team always ends up deploying an array of cameras around the house.

Solee: This was one of the movies you had “saved” in the Netflix queue. What made you add it to the list?

Mikey: To be honest, probably just the name and cover art!  When I see a horror movie that I think fits BHE, I grab it for later use since it’s so easy to do.

Solee: Which is why our “Movie” list is always so skewed toward horror! After a majestic view of the New Zealand landscape, we see the house from the perspective of the three ghost hunters as they arrive. There is a dreamcatcher/wind chime hanging prominently on the dilapidated front porch and there are vines thickly covering the railing on both sides. How did this shot set the stage for what was to come?

Mikey: Eh, other than saying “this house is in bad shape and creepy”, I don’t know what else it does for it!  Just sets the tone.  I did find it interesting that this movie completely throws away the family – it opens with the ghost hunters, and you never once see the family or hear from them.  I think that’s the first time I’ve seen a movie do that.

Solee: They didn’t spend much time on set-up or backstory, that’s for sure. We’ll talk about that more later. First, what are some other things that often signify “haunted” in these kinds of movies?

Mikey: Well, you gotta have creaky hinges.  This movie definitely was doing something with dead leaves all over the floor.  You don’t see that too often but it sure works (in this case, they had an excuse: the front door was open and apparently opens every night!). The presence of a crib always helps – the symbolism of an empty crib is pretty blunt.  There’s also something about a mobile hanging down twisting in the wind, maybe because it can move on its own which is a fairly ghostly thing to do, even though we know the natural explanation for it.

Solee: While we’re talking about tropes and stereotypes … our intrepid ghost hunters include three pretty typical characters: the Skeptic, the Psychic and the Tech Guy. What are some other basic ghost movie characters?

Mikey: I think those might be the three mandatory ones!  They’ve been done absolutely to death.  I guess there’s also the teen girl who’s absolutely terrified to the point of annoying the crap out of the audience, the jock who thinks he’s so tough and ends up bravely walking into a room only to turn around and stumble back out with a trowel jammed in his face, and of course we gotta have the guy who refuses to ever stop filming and everything he says is a really tasteless joke (a mandatory element in found footage which I couldn’t hate more).

Solee: It always surprises me that horror (and sci-fi, too) can have such unique, out-of-the-box plots and yet be peopled with such repetitive, boring characters. This movie tried to add some new ideas to the story. The Skeptic says “If spirit entities exist, they have to be made of matter.” He uses this as the beginning of his hypothesis about how they can be defeated with disruptive waves. What do you think of his hypothesis?

Mikey: Bunkum. If spirit entities did exist, they would definitively not be made of matter, because if they were matter, we would already know all about them – they’d be trivially detectable (and EMF meters wouldn’t be the tool of choice to find them!).  I think it’s a downright odd direction to go, considering every other movie ever made posits spirits being made of “energy”.  Which is in itself an absurd idea in that energy is a force, not an object. Sorta. 

Solee: One of the story bits that bothered me was the fact that the ghost hunters are there on a fact-finding mission for an insurance company. Does our homeowner’s insurance cover ghost activity?

Mikey: We didn’t even spring for flood insurance, dude.

Solee: Maybe I should make a call … what if our basement is haunted with the souls of all thos mice? Anyway, it’ time for your HALF-TIME ANALYSIS: Do you feel like you understand what’s happening at this point? Do you feel like you know where the movie is going? If so, how confident are you in your predictions?

Mikey: At half-time, what was going on was very straightforward. Your basic haunting, slowly ramping up and being caught on film. But they hadn’t found anything that would qualify as a ‘dead room’ so by this point, that title was still the most interesting thing about the movie!

My prediction was that the ghost hunters would greatly underestimate the evil power of the ghost, and would die, specifically in this order: skeptic, tech guy, and then either the psychic dies at the very end, or she just barely gets away. Also that “the dead room” would be the basement or the attic, and it would have bodies in it.

Solee: Sounds good. We’ll revisit your predictions later. For now, Can you describe your perfect ghost hunting outfit for me? Does it include short shorts and thigh high socks?

Mikey: Everybody knows the only way to fight ghosts is in a full nylon jumpsuit with a red and white logo.Nothing else really keeps the ectoplasm off.

Solee: Correct! Did you see that there were three parakeets in the birdcage? There are also three ghost hunters. Do you think this was intentional?

Mikey: I think you notice things better than I do!  I kind of doubt it meant anything simply because nothing of note ever happened to the parakeets.  It would’ve been pretty cool if they had functioned as ‘canaries in the coal mine’ for each of the 3 ghost hunters, dying shortly before each one.

Solee: Haunted house movies always strike me as a bit predictable. I mean, the question to “is this house haunted” is ALWAYS yes, right? Am I missing something?

Mikey: I can recall very few movies where the answer wasn’t yes.  But it can certainly make things interesting if it is!  Anyway, the fun of a haunted house movie isn’t whether or not it’s haunted, of course it’s haunted.  The fun comes in with the ghost itself: where did it come from, what does it want, how can you make it leave?  It’s finding out the mystery of that backstory which is the puzzle and the entertainment to the ghost movie.

Which incidentally this movie totally threw out the window. We never learn anything about the ghost. Well, except that he’s real tall.

Solee: No wonder he’s so mad, hitting his head on those light fixtures every time he walks down the hall … I’d be mad, too!  One of the things that makes me mad with horror films is when they shoot “day for night”. Does that bother you? What did you think of the other special effects?

Mikey: I think the special effects in general were good … almost all of them were simply objects moving with no visible reason, and it was executed in a very well-done way that didn’t scream fishing wire.  The strange brightness of the New Zealand night was a little off-putting.  Pretty strange actually.  I guess it must have been a full moon … at the same time and brightness every night! And whoa, such brightness.

Solee: Ridiculously bright. It’s time for the POST-GAME ANALYSIS:

Starting with the all important body count, how many people did we lose?

Mikey: Five!

Solee: And were you scared at any point?

Mikey: Hmm. It did a good job of being creepy with all the thudding, but in general I think something was slightly off on the scares.  I feel like the times when the psychic would cower and say “he’s right in front of me” should’ve been really effectively scary, but they weren’t at all. The other guys weren’t even worried about going where she said the ghost was or anything.

Solee: So, how accurate were your predictions?

Mikey: I did not at all predict where this movie went, other than the basic fact that the ghost hunters were going to be woefully underestimating the ghost and would die for it (oh, and I nailed the death order perfectly!).  The function of the Dead Room once they actually found it was a surprise, and the ending was a bit of a twist.  However, it was also a big let-down in that it didn’t explain anything, and was just kind of random killing nonsense.  I really enjoyed this movie right up to the ending sequence.  The problem is, I enjoyed it because I assumed it was all building towards telling me something interesting, and the failure of the ending was that there wasn’t anything for it to tell me after all – it just kinda turned into random slaughter.

I’m really displeased with that – there’s definitely a story behind what they found, and we just don’t get to know what it is.  I don’t like over-exposition, but I could use some!

Solee: This one really did take an unexpected 180-degree turn into a dead end in the last scenes. How would you rate this movie? Who should watch this movie and in what context?

Mikey: I’m gonna go up to 2.5/5 with this one.  It really felt like it was going to be good, right up until the point where it really really failed.

Unfortunately, that really means that nobody should watch it.  Why sit through a promising set-up only to be left hanging at the end?  That’s just a waste of your time!  It makes me question why it earns a 2.5 … but it was well-done.

Thank you, Mrs. Hommel, for your insightful and interesting questions.

Solee: Thank you! Tomorrow, we’ll watch Shadow Puppets with one of my favorite actors. I’m so excited!

*Those who are paying attention may note that there was no full moon last night. Indeed. You have caught us. In order to ensure that we are able to upload an interview every day, we did begin watching our horror movies early. We’re THAT committed to this process.


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