The Oak Room Movie Review
Written by Rebecca McCallum
Released by Black Fawn Films
Directed by Cody Calahan
Written by Peter Genoway
2020, 90 minutes, Not Yet Rated
Grimmfest UK Premiere on 9th October 2020
RJ Mitte as Steve
Peter Outerbridge as Paul
Ari Millen as Michael
Nicholas Campbell as Gordon
There is nothing more compelling than a story; from fairy tales to true crime we are all gripped and intrigued by a good narrative. The Oak Room builds its foundation on the notion of the power a story can hold and how if we view life as a story it often does not end in the way you thought it would. The opening scene shows an illuminated beer bottle while two silhouettes brawl in the background. This is followed by a sprawling shot of a snow-covered landscape set to a melancholic score. A path snakes its way into the distance and acting as a visual metaphor for the unknown that lies ahead, we cannot see where it is leading to.
Twenty-something Steve (RJ Mitte, Breaking Bad) returns to a bar in his hometown after three years away but the owner, a middle -aged man named Paul (Peter Outterbridge), does not welcome him with open arms. There is history between the pair as Steve who has been ‘drifting’ failed to attend his father Gordon’s funeral which Paul funded and oversaw in his absence. Refusing to give over any of Gordon’s belongings until Steve coughs up some cash, an immediate conflict is established. Steve tells Paul not only has he come back for his father’s possessions but more importantly, he has come because he has a story to tell. However, it’s not only Steve who has a story as from here on in we are presented with several stories told by men who span multiple generations.
Opening his story, Steve tells how Richard (Martin Roach) arrives at The Oak Room bar to an icy reception from a bar tender named Michael (Ari Millen). The two share heated exchanges which are rooted in their oppositional city/country dynamic. Within this segment, Michael tells a story of his own to Richard while back at the bar Paul gives Steve a few home truths with some of his own stories, including a fish that he caught with a finger inside and a touching re-accounting of a bar conversation he once had with Gordon (Nicholas Campbell). While all these stories are individually compelling, they also feed into a much larger picture which is unveiled in the film’s final 20 minutes.
With its often two-man set-ups and heavy dialogue, The Oak Room has a theatrical quality that enables Callaghan to engineer a piece that feels deeply character focused. The film is a brooding meditation on age, time and the widening distance between fathers and sons. The fathers sit stuck in regret of time passed and of sacrifices they have made for their sons who they perceive as being apathetic and ungrateful. Thankfully, the younger generation are not painted in broad strokes either and are also shown as capable of feeling regret such as in a poignant moment when Steve spits at his reflection in a mirror. The absence of women is also noticeable and feels instrumental in creating the bleak, aimless and cold environment.
On one level, the film is a complex and multi-layered series of retellings, but from a more simplistic standpoint it is a collection of brooding confessions made between different pairs of men in a bar setting. There are many stories being told in The Oak Room and there is one particularly gruesome moment. However, the most haunting thing is its portrayal of male fears built around the themes of memory, love and loss that are (sadly) not explored with enough regularity in the genre.
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