Directed By: Jason Stutter
Starring: Jed Brophy, Jeffrey Thomas, Laura Petersen
Tag line: "There is an intruder. It's you"
Trivia: This movie was inspired by a New Zealand suburban legend, surrounding an historic farmhouse in central Otago
The Dead Room, a 2015 supernatural thriller from New Zealand, is a perfectly adequate ghost story, with a number of creepy scenes and a surprise-laden finale that wraps things up nicely. But for years now, the horror genre has been inundated with “adequate” supernatural thrillers, and therein lies the problem: The Dead Room does what it sets out to do, and nothing more. It is not a movie that will linger long in your mind.
When a family claims that a ghost has driven them from their home, the insurance company sends in a trio of paranormal investigators: Scott (Jeffrey Thomas), Liam (Jed Brophy) and Holly (Laura Petersen), to see if the house is, indeed, haunted. To their surprise, it actually is: at 3 a.m. every morning, a spirit walks up and down the dwelling’s long hallway, opening doors and knocking into low-hanging chandeliers.
Holly, who has a sixth sense, is the only one who can see this entity, which she describes as a very tall, very angry man who doesn’t seem to want them there. In fact, each successive night that they remain in the house, the ghost’s behavior becomes more erratic. Following a particularly spooky encounter, Liam and Holly decide it’s time to leave, but are talked into staying one more night by Scott, who believes he’s developed an electronic device that, when switched on, is powerful enough to eliminate any nearby spirits. But as the three will soon discover, trying to get rid of a ghost can sometimes be more dangerous than living with one.
Like a good many supernatural films, The Dead Room relies on such time-honored effects as self-opening doors and footsteps to get its audience’s pulse pounding. And, to be fair, this approach is marginally successful in the early scenes (the second evening there, the trio is awakened by a loud thump that shakes the entire house, which is as jarring to us as it is to them). To add to the mystery, Holly and the others find that the ghost refuses to enter the back room, making it the house’s lone safe haven while also raising the question as to why it avoids this area.
Unfortunately, the malevolent spirit remains invisible throughout; each night, Holly has to tell the others where it is in the room, and what its attitude is (based on what she’s saying, this is one pissed-off ghost). And while the attacks do become more intense as the days drag on, there’s never a moment when we feel the main characters are in any sort of real danger. Things do change in the final 10 minutes, but before then, the scares in The Dead Room are, for the most part, generic.
Over the past five years, a number of supernatural thrillers have managed to distinguish themselves from the rest, including The Conjuring, The Innkeepers, and Insidious, just to name a few. Even if you don’t count yourself as a fan of these films, at the very least you remember them. Though competently made and sporadically chilling, The Dead Room will not leave a lasting impression, and six months later, when someone asks if you’ve seen it, you’ll have to think for a moment to recall whether or not you did.