Fantasia 2020 Review: ‘The Oak Room’

Sometimes the greatest mysteries or evil deeds happen in the smallest corners of the darkest parts of towns. The places where secrets get revealed and generational wounds can unravel – all taking place on one frosty night in Ontario. The Oak Room, directed by Cody Calahan, is an exploratory, slow-burn exercise into the psyche of characters with terse history. This story first started out as a play – in how this theatrical translation is managed, it enhances the psychological chess game that the audience bears witness to.

Paul (Peter Outerbridge) owns a bar in a small town and looks to close up on a night that a snowstorm is starting. Steve (R.J. Mitte), enters the bar after a long duration away from the town. He has become a drifter and when he and Paul speak, things become very tense in a hurry. There’s some history between these two men regarding debt to be paid. As Paul is insistent on collecting, Steve then offers to tell him a story. From that point forward, the movie weaves into layered narratives, deception, and

In order for a movie such as The Oak Room to work – a movie that features heavy dialogue and characters confined to one space; it has to be compelling and well-acted. Outerbridge and Mittle both shine in their roles. As both men slowly divulge their histories and critique each other on making their stories enthralling, it pulls in you. Calahan and writer Peter Genoway, with their brand of slowly unveiling the plot threads, ask the audience to go on a journey with these characters – even if it’s within a finite amount of time.

Camera techniques hone in to accentuate the emotions that the characters convey throughout their conversations. Cinematographer Jeff Maher uses both the darkness and lucid lighting of the bar to tighten the tension of what’s happening in front of you. As you find out more about Paul and Steve, there are other elements that get introduced that don’t overwhelm the dominant story. Michael (Ari Millen) becomes a conduit for how Steve weaves a lesson throughout the movie. Every piece of dialogue is meaningful to put the puzzle pieces together.

Besides the debt being owed, Paul and Steve’s stories feed off of each other differently. The Oak Room is also a story of small-town regret and relationships between legacy and family. Steve’s father, Gordon (Nicholas Campbell) passed away and Paul was very close with him – Steve, not so much. Throughout their conversation, the hierarchy between these men slowly warps into something more sinister. Calahan allows this nervousness to play out through facial expressions and body language.

The Oak Room plays out like a Rod Serling-like Twilight Zone episode. What begins as sore feelings on a frigid, snowy evening morphs into something much more sinister. Whatever you consider the horror to be, it doesn’t reveal itself right away and that may turn some people off. It’s rather the reward for staying the story-rich course of two men at a bar with axes to grind.

Photo Credit: Black Fawn Films

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Author: Murjani Rawls View all posts by
Journalist, Self-published author of five books, podcast host, and photographer since 2014, Murjani Rawls has been stretching the capabilities of his creativity and passions, Rawls has as a portfolio spanning through many mediums including music, television, movies, and more. Operating out of the New York area, Rawls has photographed over 200+ artists spanning many genres, written over 700 articles ranging displaying his passionate aspirations to keep evolving as his years in media continue.

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