The Black Room
Paul and Jennifer Hemdale have just moved into their dream house. But their happy marriage is about to be put to the test as they slowly discover the secret behind the black room in the cellar. Something else is already living in their new home and it is growing stronger every day.
When it comes to classic horror tropes – like haunted houses and the dark secrets they hide – there’s definitely more than one way to approach material that is very familiar to the average genre fan by now. More and more modern filmmakers are adopting a cerebral approach and turning their haunted house movies into social commentaries with something larger to say. Others are focused on simply telling a good scary story with plenty of jump scares and special effects. Still more go for an exploitive approach that is almost intentionally trashy. The Black Room could probably best be described as the third type.
The Black Room was released in 2016 and directed by Rolfe Kanefsky (Party Bus to Hell, Nightmare Man). It stars Natasha Henstridge (Species, Ravers), Lin Shaye (Insidious, The Final Wish, Hood of Horror, Rosewood Lane), and Lukas Hassel. The plotline follows the story of happily married couple, Paul and Jennifer Hemdale (played by Hassel and Henstridge, respectively). They’ve just completed the process of moving into their dream home only to find out that it’s maybe a little too good to be true, as such things tend to be in horror films. The home comes complete with a mysterious black room in the basement, not to mention a dark and mysterious presence that’s not to be trifled with.
Right from scene one, the viewer is made jarringly aware that this film isn’t going to pull any punches when it comes to cheaper, more predictable ways to shock. There’s plenty of nudity involved right from the get-go, and it’s the type of nudity that’s really just there for the hell of it, as opposed to for storytelling or artistic merit. Where there’s gratuitous nudity, there’s often also gratuitous sex, and that’s definitely something else you’ll see plenty of in The Black Room. (At times, viewers may even find themselves wondering whether they’re watching a horror film or softcore porn.)
Violence and gore are treated similarly throughout the film – as ways to shock (and perhaps even disgust) the audience, as opposed to ways to truly propel the plot forward or build an atmosphere. The “shock for shock’s sake” impression this makes isn’t made much better by other issues The Black Room has as a film. The production here is really pretty cheesy, as is the writing. The music, pacing, and failure to nail down a cohesive style don’t do much to take the edge off. Most of the acting is nothing to write home to mom about either.
However, The Black Room definitely isn’t all bad. The special effects and makeup are really very well executed, especially during some of the key scenes. Also, Lin Shaye’s performance is a bright spot, even if she is woefully underutilized and can’t quite save this film on her own. These merits probably aren’t enough on their own to justify calling The Black Room a good film though, so consider yourself warned.
So is the this film worth your time? That depends entirely on how you feel about graphic genre films that really just exist to shock and horrify, rather than truly unsettle or entertain. If you’re looking for a think piece that will leave you mulling over the finer plot points for days to come, The Black Room is probably not for you. However, if you get something out of consuming shamelessly exploitive films just to see if you have what it takes to sit through them from beginning to end, you might enjoy giving this a go. It won’t leave you rushing to the video store to buy a forever copy of your own, but it may entertain you for an hour and a half.