Editor’s Note: Bloody Good Horror returns to the Fantasia International Film Festival to review some of the fest’s 2020 virtual offerings. If you’re a reader living in Canada, you can find more information about how to watch films and programs here. We would like to thank Fantasia for allowing us access to review these films.
“You’re never going to believe what happened at The Oak Room”...Well, actually you might believe it, but what you’ll never believe is that a thriller made up almost entirely of people telling story after story is as tense and engaging as Cody Callahan’s film. The Oak Room is a glowing testament of how a well told story can leave you riveted and begging for more.
The story kicks off as a drifter by the name of Steve (Breaking Bad’s RJ Mitte) waltzes into a local bar of the small Canadian town he grew up in. His arrival is much to the chagrin of the grizzled bartender, Paul (Peter Outerbridge). Steve offers to settle old scores by telling a story and Paul obliges, bewildered and amused by the kid’s audacity. What begins seemingly innocuous quickly leads down a dark path of mistaken identity and violence.
The Oak Room works exceedingly well for a movie that is all talk and little to no action. Right off the bat though the audience has to suppress the urge to bail on the ludicrous idea that 1) someone believes telling a story is enough to settle a debt, and 2) that someone would be willing to accept the telling of a story to forgive a debt. It’s refreshing nonetheless for a film to take the stance of arguing for the value of stories.
Based on a play of the same name and with the same writer, it’s easy to see how this would play well on the stage. Little is lost on the jump to the big screen as Peter Genoway’s script skillfully molds itself to a cinematic narrative by simply incorporating the idea of how storytelling draws us in and we listen intently. Not once will you find yourself thinking “cut to the chase”. Terminology such as “goosing the truth” (stretching the facts for the sake of making the story more interesting) are used to great effect to accentuate the stories and make the audience decide what’s an exaggeration for dramatic effect and what may be true.
Besides being ripe with tension, The Oak Room has a tragic undertone to it that lies within the broken relationship between Steve and his deceased father Gordon (Nicholas Campbell), which extends to Paul’s friendship with Gordon who was a regular at the bar. The deeper into the story we get, the more tension and emotional depth is piled on. Throw in the great performances from the entire cast and it's easy to find yourself glued to your seat leaning forward further and further in anticipation of what happens next.
The Oak Room has a Hitchcockian vibe to it, spliced with a smidge of Tarantino’s love of letting conversations just play out as narrative tension ramps up. Though lacking in a little swagger and punch to really punctuate the story, Cody Callahan’s talky thriller uniquely hypnotizes and captivates with its “a guy walks into a bar” schtick.
Screened as part of the 2020 Fantasia Film Festival.