The Oak Room
Director Cody Calahan, who made both The Oak Room and Vicious Fun (a favourite at this year’s Glasgow Film Festival) could join S Craig Zahler and Jeremy Saulnier on the frontlines of America’s modern-day genre film movement. He is a highly efficient filmmaker with a canny ability to guide viewers through taut narratives, ensuring they remain gripped by his steady storytelling.
This Canadian thriller centres on the suspenseful interplay between ambiguous drifter Steve (RJ Mitte, Breaking Bad) and no-nonsense bartender Paul (Peter Outerbridge, Nikita), who are brought together during a blizzard one night. They know each other from way back, and the drifter owes the bartender a debt. But in this spontaneous circumstance, the best the former can offer is to share a tale about an incident that happened in a nearby tavern in Ontario.
After a fractious negotiation, Paul accepts hearing Steve out, sitting down for a yarn about a fellow bartender’s enigmatic encounter with a lone customer. He doesn’t see any meaning to the chronicle and questions, “Guy walks into a bar, talks shit for ten minutes and that’s it?” – it’s a question the audience will continually ask as Steve shares his stories-within-stories. But screenwriter Peter Genoway knows this and rewards patient viewers with a climax that satisfyingly wraps up the various non-linear narrative threads, complete with a healthy dose of violence.
This economical, dialogue-driven chamber piece is an easy recommendation for fans of the genre: its diligent storytelling is a requiem to the suspense masters of yesteryear, including Alfred Hitchcock and Sidney Lumet. For viewers less familiar with this sort of film (essentially those who are unacquainted with the sort of titles on Shudder or the Arrow Video Channel), the slow pace could be a turn-off.
Nevertheless, the co-leads extend great efforts to sustain the intrigue. Mitte is worlds away from his breakthrough role as the beloved Walt Jr in Breaking Bad, exercising his amazing ability to convey mystery and deception. Outerbridge, on the other hand, is monotonously aggressive, but eventually externalises his primal instincts when things start to add up, leading to a memorable conclusion.
The Oak Room is released digitally on demand on 26th March 2021.
Watch the trailer for The Oak Room here: