Much like the mysterious character within it played by Breaking Bad’s RJ Mitte, here is a film that has seemingly come out of nowhere to enthral us with a dark and twisted tale of suspense that would have the master Alfred Hitchcock cackling with glee.
The Oak Room sees a drifter returning out of the blue to his local bar to settle an unknown score with the cantankerous bartender (Peter Outerbridge). Not with money, but a story. Promising that the tale will close the debt, what follows is a fascinating narrative structure that sees stories within stories told across two bars with a small but unforgettable cast of characters. Based on the play of the same name by screenwriter Peter Genoway, the film often feels very theatrical with its small chamber piece setting and monologue-like dialogue, but the finished product is one that feels truly cinematic thanks to gorgeous cinematography, brooding atmosphere, and its stylish, well-paced delivery.
Built around the concept of storytelling itself – with Outerbridge’s bartender even lamenting that Mitte’s tale is too dull and needs to be “goosed up” – watching the film is akin to hearing a selection of twisted campfire yarns on a cold, winter night. Deliberately paced with hauntingly beautiful noirish neon lighting, The Oak Room is a richly layered and compelling exercise in nesting stories within one another. It almost plays like an anthology of sorts, with some of the tales initially feeling inconsequential until their often-horrifying relevance is revealed later in the unravelling narrative. As the reliability of the storytellers is left unresolved after the afore-mentioned “goosing up” sequence, large portions of the film are left ambiguous as the truth of the tales is put into question. It’s up to the viewer to decide who, and indeed what, to believe. The film is a wild ride that feels as much a love letter to storytelling as it is a dark, twisted and endlessly compelling fable in its own right.
The cast are all incredible – RJ Mitte in particular commands the screen, balancing the innocence we’ve come to love from his Breaking Bad character with a new level of enigmatic and sinister charm. Outerbridge is great too as the bartender with a few stories of his own, while a supporting cast including Ari Millen, Nicholas Campbell and Martin Roach all bring their fascinating and unique characters to life flawlessly. David Ferry is particularly memorable as a kindly bartender who finds himself at the centre of one of the film’s grisly tales. This is certainly one of the finest ensemble casts in years, packed with pitch-perfect performances all given time to shine.
The Oak Room is one of the most surprising and rewarding cinematic discoveries of the year so far, and another jewel in the crown for Lightbulb Film Distribution’s ever-growing catalogue of uniquely chilling films. With a rock-solid cast, an impeccable screenplay and flawless direction from Cody Calahan, The Oak Room is a hypnotic and absorbing masterclass in storytelling destined for cult status.
The Oak Room is available on digital platforms from April 26, courtesy of Lightbulb Film Distribution