The Dead Room (2015): Based on a True Suburban Legend (Review)

Laura Petersen as Holly in The Dead Room

Every so often a film is released that ticks all the boxes and rings all the bells.  The Dead Room is one of these gems, a film that dares to leave the “found footage” trend alone and delver an old fashioned haunted house movie along the lines of  The Legend of Hell House.  Although this film is based on a “true” suburban legend.

Despite this New Zealand film delivering a brilliant suspenseful and slow build to a satisfying conclusion there are some who just did not “get it.”  A critic for the LA Times was very dismissive of the film. Perhaps he did not understand that jump scares, buckets of blood and nubile young ladies being sliced and diced does not apply to all horror films.

Maybe, God forbid, the reviewer thought it should have been a found footage film.

Jason Stutter and Kevin Stevens wrote the screenplay after hearing about the legend in a pub. Sutter directs the film and manages to put everything together nicely.  The Dead Room is an intimate picture with only three characters, not counting the ghostly house and its violence prone otherworldly visitor. 

Laura Petersen is Holly; a psychic who is afraid of ghosts and hauntings,  makes up one third of the ream of researchers. Jeffrey Thomas is the team leader Scott who does not believe in ghosts but desperately wants to see one. Jed Brophy is Liam the team’s science nerd. 

As the trio investigate the recently deserted house, the family left with the clothes on their backs,  it takes a long while for the spirit to cooperate. Once it does the activity increases steadily and finally the team  experience the ghost’s presence.

The pacing of the film is slow but steady. Sutter chooses to build on the unease generated by the spirits activities. At a time when there are more than a few paranormal investigative teams on television (Ghost Hunters  aka *TAPS* and Most Haunted to name but two) the film covers familiar ground.

Using the formula,  established by not just the paranormal shows mentioned above, but by real procedures used by non-televised “ghostbusters” as  well, the film looks fairly convincing. Anyone familiar with these ghost hunts will recognize the procedure of sit and wait.

For all the complaints about the slowness of the film’s action, things do not really take that long to escalate. The conversations between the small team help to establish the characters of each player.

The opening door, part of the legend of the real haunted house, the footsteps and the escalation of the ghost’s interactions all move forward to reveal a surprising conclusion to the film.

It appears that the ending was possibly influenced to a degree by the 1973 film The Legend of Hell House, albeit a lot less theatrical and overblown.  Regardless of this, the film delivers its eerie and atmospheric tone almost to perfection.

This is not a film about a boogeyman that indiscriminately hacks and slashes his victims. Nor is it a “blockbuster” chills and thrills horror movie along the the lines of The Conjuring franchise.

The Dead Room is a fine example of New Zealand horror that is underplayed to allow the audience to get caught up in the film.   It is far easier to suspend one’s disbelief when events are handled in a restrained and well paced manner.

Petersen is convincing as the psychic who really does not enjoy her job. Thomas and Brophy also bring a certain truth to their characters making this little trio of ghostbusters feel as authentic as any of Jason Hawes‘ team from TAPS.

This is a brilliant haunted house film that earns a full 5 stars for delivering  a creepy and slowly escalating sense of unease and fear.  It serves up an excellent twist that is truly surprising and it is very entertaining. Horror fans expecting more hoopla and less suspense should give this one a miss.

Author: Mike's Film Talk

Former Actor, Former Writer, Former Journalist, USAF Veteran, Former Member Nevada Film Critics Society

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