THE DISAPPOINTMENTS ROOM Review

You may not recognize the name D.J. Caruso, but if you're under the age of thirty-five you've probably seen a few of his movies. Whether it be the 2004 Angelina Jolie mystery/thriller Taking Lives, the double feature he directed with Shia LaBeouf in 2007 and 2008 with Disturbia and Eagle Eye or even the sign his career wasn't headed in as promising a direction as we'd hoped with 2011's I Am Number Four adaptation. The thing is, I want to like Mr. Caruso as I hold a special place in my heart for Disturbia which was more or less a modernization of Hitchcock's Rear Window (which itself was based on Cornell Woolrich's short story 'It Had to Be Murder'), but done with the added elements of humor and teen drama to make it more appealing to a broader audience. That Caruso was able to take the tense and rather static story from which Rear Window came and infuse it with a sly charm while keeping the inherent tensions intact was a feat worth acknowledging, but in the near decade since Disturbia it seems the filmmaker has become more a director for hire rather than the auteur he seemed to show the promise of becoming. What happened to the director? Why is his next project a fifteen year later sequel to a Vin Diesel movie that was only greenlit in the first place because of the success of The Fast & the Furious? We may never know, but while The Disappointments Room might have been a much hyped spring/pre-summer release rather than a slight horror film hoping to be disposed of in the dumping grounds of September ten years ago (given both Caruso's clout as well as Kate Beckinsale's at that time were much higher) that is unfortunately exactly what we have today. Worse, The Disappointments Room suffers at the fate of being the first film to be released since Relativity Studios filed for Chapter 11 Bankruptcy Protection on July 30, 2015. And so, with a reported budget of $15 million Relativity and its Rogue label are simply hoping to make some kind of profit by releasing this as quick as they can before its sits too long on the shelf. Despite all of what it has going against it though, it is easier than one might expect to understand why Caruso, who penned the screenplay with Wentworth Miller (Prison Break), had a desire to tell this story; the real issue being they chose to tell this story within the confines of a stale genre template.

Dana (Kate Beckinsale) protects her son Lucas (Duncan Joiner) when she thinks she hears something in the woods outside their new house.
Like The Babadook, but with a more conventional/less guerilla approach The Disappointments Room is a horror film about a mother dealing with her grief over the loss of a loved one who finds herself in a situation where she feels surrounded by monsters and evil spirits. In the case of Dana (Beckinsale) we are subject to a woman who genuinely believes she is being haunted by a child as she is still in the process of recovering from the loss of her own child. There is clearly a larger topic and bigger themes that Caruso and Miller intended to tackle that serves as the emotional core to The Disappointments Room, but until the third act there is no real discussion of what these issues and emotional repercussions are due to the fact they want there to be a climactic third act reveal leaving the majority of the film to layer in elements and clues leading up to this reveal without being able to explicitly address them. I can admire a screenwriter and filmmaker for attempting to convey their story through metaphor rather than in a more straightforward fashion, but in taking the standard horror movie approach Caruso and Miller put one too many restraints on themselves and thus are unable to discuss what they seem to want to talk about as effectively as they could have. Combining the exploration of the presumed one of a kind grief that comes along with having to bury your own child and combining it with the inherently intriguing and endlessly creepy stories of real-life disappointment rooms is a solid premise, but unfortunately the idea is unable to execute itself beyond that engaging premise. The real-life disappointment rooms that inspired the film were small spaces, typically located on the top floor of a house, where children of what were usually wealthy and noble families that suffered from mental or physical disabilities were kept so that they would remain out of the public eye. The correlation between the mentalities of those ashamed of their children to the point they essentially erased their existence and that of Dana who wants to erase her own because of the shame she has for what she's done is a strong one that the film could have utilized in more potent ways, but seeing as we don't realize the full extent of this connection until the last five minutes the potential weight of such introspection is more or less rendered moot.

Instead, The Disappointments Room turns out to be one of those "scary movies" that follows an unsuspecting urban couple as they move into a supposedly haunted house in the middle of the country that no one else has dared touch for quite some time. Furthermore, we are meant to quickly pick up on the familiar fact that something terrible once happened in this old house and it is now up to the new, hip, urban inhabitants to (slowly) unravel the truth of what happened that has kept buyers away for so many years leaving them to either defeat the demons or flee from the house themselves. This leaves us with the question of what exactly does The Disappointments Room do with this well-worn premise that takes advantage of the tropes it possesses if anything at all? While the film tries to have its cake and eat it too when discussing the conclusion the script gives surprisingly strong justification to the requisite move to the small town that spurns all of this into motion. You see, Dana is an architect-schooled at the hands of her contractor father who didn't like the idea of babysitter's and in turn kept his daughter on many a work sites (which, on second thought, seems way less safer than a babysitter) throughout her childhood-and the fixing up of this old house is a project intended to give Beckinsale's character a purpose in light of her recent experiences. Still, just because character objectives are understood doesn't mean the film comes up with anything unique as far as using these familiar narrative beats to better get to the heart of the point the film is trying to make. In fact, everything about The Disappointments Room from the aesthetic of the camera angles and color palette down to the bland and insanely overbearing score feels familiar to the point that any edge brought on by the raw emotions conveyed in Beckinsale's performance or the innate creepiness of the premise referred to in the title is undone by how safe all of the other choices in the film turn out to be. The film is rated-R, but you wouldn't know it did the characters not to use the F-word as often as they do given there is hardly a legitimate scare with violence serving as the main tool to frighten, but even in the blood that is shed there is hardly any semblance of authentic fear.

Ben (Lucas Till) and David (Mel Raido) discuss necessary repairs to the house that Ben might help with. 
What largely saves The Disappointments Room from being a total disappointment (pun intended) is both the (failed) ambition that is reveals itself to have in the third act as well as a couple of strong performances in a sea of unnecessary or flat-out bad ones. To start, there is a scene near the end of the film where Dana bursts into a dinner that her husband David (Mel Raido) has arranged for her and their friends completely drunk. It is one of those scenes where the viewer will instantly recognize it as being the thing they'll most remember about the film. Truly, this single scene is better than anything in the rest of the movie. It gives Beckinsale, the actress, material and meat to work with whereas the rest of the film sees her wandering around the, albeit interestingly designed old house (the color and texture of the walls making it feel like our characters are in a huge candle that's wax has been slowly melting for years), looking scared and suspicious. As the otherwise supportive husband who conveniently leaves for two days on a business trip just after his wife expresses her desire to leave their new house, Raido adds some much needed energy to the picture delivering some genuine humor and a strong support system for Dana and their son, Lucas (Duncan Joiner), that makes us believe this family might be able to actually stick together. Unfortunately, Joiner isn't a great child actor and worse his character isn't integrated into the story naturally enough for his arc to matter. The same could be said for the inclusion of Lucas Till's character whose purpose within the narrative is never revealed (nor is his fate) and nothing of consequence comes of his involvement ultimately rendering his entire subplot unnecessary. On the other side of things we have Marcia DeRousse-looking like something out of a Sam Raimi picture-who delivers the explanation of the titular rooms with such delicious campiness that one can't help but be sucked into mystery that surrounds these disappointment rooms. Worst of all though, is that The Disappointments Room feels incomplete in what it wants to explore. With a third act set piece that fits the mold of an obligatory climax that is supposed to make us feel like Dana and David can now move past the old curses it seemed the movie had completely succumbed to the trappings of its classification, but as it takes an interesting if not as horrific as it could have been turn the film reveals its heart to be one that holds a truly tragic story that, did it not try to adhere to such a strict outline, could have been a moving portrait of loss and what must feel like an aimless search for redemption.