Fantasia 2020: A Tense Night at THE OAK ROOM

A story is worth a thousand words. It is a sentence that becomes more clear the more it’s repeated and examined, such is The Oak Room’s intention. A meditation of life and the stories it brings, The Oak Room is a thoughtful dedication to the power of mystery and revelation as it crafts its intricate tale of bar room noir.

On a cold winter night, air brushes the back of one’s neck like a razor and company is sparse to find at closing hour for a local bar. As bartender Paul (Peter Outerbridge) begins to close up and head home, the door swings open and trouble steps through in the boots of a wanderer named Steve (RJ Mitte of Breaking Bad acclaim). Tensions quickly rise as a history of debts and personal injury are exchanged between the two but Steve reveals he’s come to town to settle his debts. But with what money? He’s a no good, backroad drifting loser. Ah, yes but a story… a story is worth a thousand words. Despite the argument of it not being a suitable substitute for cash, Paul agrees to hear Steve out when he tells him of an infamous bar known as The Oak Room.

A tale of crime, deceit and mysterious coincidence is laid out as Steve begins to tell Paul about an infamous bar known as the Oak Room. The tale is very similar the one currently playing out, a bartender closes and a stranger arrives with blood on his hands. The vignette plays out in discussion of what it means to suffer and what it can do to a man. Nature is cruel, such is the way of the world. But what’s that got to do with Paul? Paul knows suffering, in fact he tells his own tale of a father who lost his son to that very world. It feels familiar to Steve, all too familiar. But his story isn’t over, Paul informs him it is in forty minutes… he’s made a call to someone else Steve holds a debt with; someone who may not appreciate a good story. Steve is quick to then assert its importance to Paul and a suddenly very pertinent personal detail is revealed that leads Paul to question why it is that Steve had actually come here and whether he may leave at all.

Concerning itself with the semantics of story and the power that it holds, The Oak Room is not only a brooding noir tale fitting for a cold winter day but a mediation on how stories affect us. Written by Peter Genoway and directed by Cody Calahan The Oak Room demonstrates an incredible amount of talent. Air conditioners aren’t cheap but one look at the Canadian outback through Calahan’s lens and a chill is guaranteed. The camera captures it’s noir stylings in the smokey rooms and grizzled bar counters that fill the screen with a certain sense that something bad is near but just what is never known until it’s too late. The stories told through vignette hold specific patterns and indications of connection that are slow to draw out to conclusion and serve to highlight Genoway’s excellent sense of pacing to create an effective wrap around that weaves the various tales into one cohesive story. Suspense is felt in every scene both whether actors or not and the fates of characters are thrown into a pondering balance as the film continues on its mediation.

Rife with suspense and mystery, The Oak Room is a very special film that holds a prowess both for its ability in storytelling and noir stylings. Being one of RJ Mitte’s latest starring roles since his appearances on Breaking Bad as Walt Jr, The Oak Room not only marks a success for writer and director but the actors whose emotions hang on every word like the cold mist on every breath. Be sure to stir a nice glass of whiskey and settle in for this bar tale like no other and brace yourself for masterfully wielded suspense.

Jon Chamis
Black Soul / Metallic Heart
Jon Chamis is a screenwriter from Vermont whose fascinated by all films weird, horrific and macabre. From praising Bergman to defending Rob Zombie's Halloween, Jon likes to explore any artist striving to push boundaries and can be found in the parking lot before any matinee showing of a new release. You can catch him over at Letterboxd to chat about film.
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