Room of Death [subtitled]

Room of Death

I was confused for a fair portion of the French crime thriller Room of Death (that’s been compared to The Silence of the Lambs), but instead of gradually becoming more obscure as it went along, it gradually becomes clearer (though I’m not going to claim to have understood all of it in the end).

The main confusing element isn’t so much a specific scene, character, line, etc., as the structure. There are multiple scenes that are ordered in such a way that they appear to be related linearly to what came immediately before and what will come immediately after, but that in fact are flashbacks or dreams or things happening at the same time but in a different place, etc. This is all intentional misdirection (and the kind of artificial mystery and trickery that I’m not crazy about, as it doesn’t flow naturally from the material but is imposed on it for no reason except to confuse). Once I figured that out, I knew to be a lot more careful about taking things at face value. Over time, enough is revealed to retroactively make sense of the head-scratchingly out-of-context scenes, though one or two are only partially explained (at least that I picked up on).

Case in point: The movie opens with an explosive scene mostly in the dark where intruders are apparently attacking a family, and you hear a mother screaming and trying to protect her child or children. Then you get into the movie proper and it’s all about a child abduction and murder and tracing the ransom money, etc. Problem is, I spent a half hour or more utterly perplexed, because certain things that were gradually revealed about the crime were inconsistent with the opening scene, at least what I thought I saw in the opening scene.

Come to find out, it’s because the opening scene isn’t that same crime. You can eventually infer that it’s a flashback involving one of the characters, showing how a certain event from her childhood relates to her role in the present crime.

And things like that happen multiple times. There might be a scene of cops rushing to a building and banging on the door, and people inside scrambling around. Except it somehow doesn’t match up, and then you realize it’s because we’re not seeing the same building from an outside and an inside perspective, as you’d be led to believe by cinematographic conventions, but two wholly separate scenes occurring in different places.

So a significant factor in whether you like or dislike Room of Death is going to be how you feel about that device. Is it something that shows a lot of creativity and enhances the film by keeping you on your toes and giving you puzzles to figure out? Or is it an annoying distraction that makes it harder to focus on the actual story? I’m in between, but closer to the latter reaction. I don’t think you enhance a quality photograph by displaying it such that you’re seeing it in a fun house mirror.

Beyond that factor, it’s a good movie. The characters, the development of the story, the action scenes, the psychological elements, the ending, etc. are all no worse than above average for this genre. It does a particularly good job coherently handling the related subplots. (While the cops are trying to catch the murderer(s), two fellows who come into possession of the ransom money in A Simple Plan or No Country for Old Men fashion are being pursued by both the cops and the murderer(s)). I stayed interested pretty much the whole way.

On the other hand, there’s no single stand out element, like Anthony Hopkins’s classic portrayal of Hannibal Lecter in The Silence of the Lambs, to put this movie over the top.

Room of Death is a solid, worthwhile effort, not a home run, but worthy of a lesser recommendation.

By the way, it’s not an easy movie to find. It’s been released under multiple other names, including Chamber of Death, Melody’s Smile, and the original French La Chambre des Morts. I can’t find it listed under any title on the Rotten Tomatoes site. IMDB has only a few external reviews of it, just one of which is in English. Still, it’s a decent film if you can locate it.

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