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Friday, April 28, 2017

Review: The Disappointments Room

Well, The Name of the Movie Certainly Can't be Accused of False Advertising...

By Chris Sabga

Release Date: September 9th, 2016 – U.S.
Rating: R
Genre: Horror, Drama, Thriller
Running Time: 85 minutes
Director: D.J. Caruso
Writers: D.J. Caruso, Wentworth Miller
Cast: Kate Beckinsale, Mel Raido, 
Duncan Joiner, Lucas Till, 
Gerald McRaney

In the olden days, well-to-do parents with disabled or deformed children sometimes locked them away and hid their existence from society. A less-than-perfect child was considered a source of "shame" and a "disappointment." They would be imprisoned in a tiny space – a "disappointments room" – with very little sunlight and no social interaction outside of parents and servants. Their lives were often – mercifully – brief.

If that tragic practice sounds like a terrific setup for a paint-by-numbers haunted house/ghost movie, congratulations, your name is D.J. Caruso or Wentworth Miller. (They wrote the screenplay.) Everyone else will lament the major missed opportunity to tell a compelling story about one of the darkest customs in American history.

Perhaps it's unfair of me to fault the movie for what it was never going to be – especially when I knew going in that it was a psychological horror thriller, not a historical drama – but the fascinating concept of a "disappointments room" has so much potential that's not realized.

Here's what we do get: The movie begins idyllically, with a seemingly happy family on a road trip – a wife, Dana (Kate Beckinsale), her husband, David (Mel Raido), and their little boy, Lucas (Duncan Joiner), buckled safely into his carseat – all singing "If You Want To Know Who We Are" by Gilbert and Sullivan. As they belt out the "We are gentlemen of Japan" portion of the song, the husband basks in the "American" experience they're enjoying. The wife points out that Gilbert and Sullivan are actually English. London-born Kate Beckinsale isn't though, at least not in this movie. That's always a disappointment to me, but she mastered her American accent to perfection back in 1999's "Brokedown Palace," so there's no need to shove her in a "disappointments room" for flexing her linguistic muscles and acting chops.

As it turns out, they're moving from a cramped apartment in the city to a giant house in the secluded countryside – never a good idea in this type of film – because Dana lost her infant daughter only three months after giving birth. Needless to say, she has been suffering psychological trauma since then. Before long, she discovers a mysterious room – a "disappointments room," of course – and starts to see the long-dead previous owner lurking around ("This Is Us's" Dr. K., Gerald McRaney, whose superb talents are completely wasted here in a throwaway role) and an ominous black dog reminiscent of "The Omen." There's also a handyman (played by the new "MacGyver," Lucas Till) who shows up to fix a roof leak. His presence seems to serve only one purpose, which I won't spoil.

I've spent so much time focusing on what "The Disappointments Room" isn't that I've given short thrift to what it is – a somewhat enjoyable psychological horror thriller with a decent little mystery driving it. I had a fair bit of fun watching it. There are certainly worse ways to spend a couple of hours.

The problem is, though, that the narrative never quite comes together in a completely satisfying manner. Spooky things happen, and then the movie is over.

What's real and what isn't? Ultimately, to the detriment of "The Disappointments Room," it never actually matters.