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The haunted house is a firm fixture in cinema horror with its familiar setting and comfortable surrounding an endless trap for jump scares and shadows full of surprises. Using depression as a catalyst for horror is also nothing new, with the best of them using the metaphor with impressive results, including the genre-leading The Babadook (2014), a film that explored the depth of what its subject with nuance and respect to the characters. With The Disappointments Room, this metaphor is loosely spun again and yet blandly told, with a story more interested in playing into tropes than innovating the genre forward.
Dana (Kate Beckinsale), an architect, and her husband David (Mel Raido), currently unemployed, have just lost a child, an event that threatens to break them, so they decide to take their 5-year-old boy Lucas (Duncan Joiner) out of Brooklyn and into the country, buying an old fixer-upper estate. Looking to use her skills to refurbish the huge manor, she is drawn into the endless halls and shadowy rooms, though it’s not long before she senses there is a strange presence about the place.
Things escalate into terrifying nightmares and increasingly disturbing events, including a skulking black dog on the property, visions of a bloodied Lucas, and a light that seems to come on and off in home’s tower attic, which is locked. She soon finds a key to the room and inside, discovers it was where the long-ago previous owner imprisoned and murdered his disfigured daughter. She learns these types of rooms, called ‘disappointments rooms,’ were common with wealthy families with children they considered an embarrassment, in this case Victorian era Judge Blacker (Gerald McRaney). Naturally, by opening the door, she unleashes the terrors within, which begin to test her sanity as she steady unravels under the haunting of a ghost hiding frightening secrets.
Written and directed by D.J. Caruso, The Disappointments Room is a rather generic entry in the psychological horror sub-genre, playing like a sheet of music scales, so precisely laid out in perfuctory manner it feels like it was written under strict rules rather than creative inspiration. Even a newcomer to scary movies will have no difficulty navigating the predictable screenplay that wastes no time in setting up the pattern it’s going to follow. From the death of a child to a woman on medication to a disbelieving husband to a troubled child and so on, the film is packed to the rafters with boilerplate plotting and expositional dialog.
The worst part about The Disappointments Room, a title itself seemingly daring critics to call it as such, is the abysmal mistreatment of the subject matter, with both the loss of a child and the feelings of suicide it incurs something not to be so adjectively trivialized, instead putting its energies into ridiculous jump scares and endless clichés, all giant arrows in the narrative pointing us to see the film’s neon-lit message. Of course the town historian is an eccentric who knows everything about the house, naturally Dana’s sexually attracted to the young handsome handyman Ben (Lucas Till), who tries just as hard to bed her as he does renovate the grounds, and unsurprisingly, her husband is clueless. The list goes on and on. It’s a tired recipe.
Terribly miscast, with Beckinsale all wrong for the part and Raido tragically underwhelming, delivering one pained, dull line reading after another, the film is a lifeless and woefully over-directed feature that fails on every level. There’s no doubt that Caruso had a good idea, but it’s not entirely original and while the historical accuracy of the segregation of special needs people is one to explore, even perhaps in this same genre, The Disappointments Room mishandles it entirely, attempting to use it as a parallel for a mother’s guilt rather than a cause for the children who suffered.
Movie description: The Disappointments Room is a 2016 horror film about a family who move into their dream country home only to find an attic full of dark terrors.
Director(s): D.J. Caruso
Actor(s): Kate Beckinsale, Mel Raido, Lucas Till