Grizzled men (and Walt Jr from Breaking Bad) telling stories in dive bars in small town Canada during a blizzard. That’s the quick and dirty summary for The Oak Room, the newest film from director Cody Calahan and writer Peter Genoway, but boiling it down to just those base elements doesn’t do it justice as there is much to appreciate about this film. A slow burn through and through, the start of the film finds us in a dive bar at closing time (you know, like that song from Big Shiny Tunes 3) just as a belecaved visitor blows in through the door. Turns out it’s Steve (played by RJ Mite who you probably know from Breaking Bad), son of one of the bars patrons who decided to leave small town life behind and head off to college. Things are immediately off to a bad start when it’s made clear Steve is no longer welcome in the bar as his departure from the town and his fathers life caused more damage than he could imagine, damage that continues to linger even after his fathers untimely death. The bartender, Paul, who was also Steve’s fathers best friend wastes no time in brow-beating Steve about leaving, not returning to honor his father at his funeral and the mounting costs of his funeral and everything that came with it. Steve is there to get his fathers ashes, but Paul isn’t having any of it without first squaring up the money he’s owed, which is probably fair when you consider just how much grief and monetary loss he shouldered. Steve doesn’t’ have the cash to make this happen but promises to tell a story that will satisfy the debt. Paul, not convinced but willing to humor him, listens to the ever wilder growing tale that Steve spins, touching on organized crime, intense acts of violence and the inside of many bar rooms.
The Oak Room is told through a series of stories that start out with Steve’s but quickly intertwine as Paul has a story of his own to tell which might just have another character telling a story inside of it. Like I said at the start, The Oak Room is all about stories but it’s also full of misdirection and as Paul eloquently puts it “goosing the truth”. As with any story you’re going to hear in a bar, you aren’t ever sure how truthful the story teller is being and what they are choosing to omit from the story, which turns The Oak Room into a big guessing game for the viewer. This little bit of mystery and the intertwined nature of the narrative was one of the things enjoyed the most about the film as I found it rewarded attentive watching as we learn bits and pieces of the characters sometimes sordid histories and piece them together as the narrative progresses. The score for The Oak Room also merits mentioning, striking tension from the first moments of the film. Throughout the film, it continues to add to the dark, isolated and snow locked feeling of the small town this movie is set in. In a movie filled with some powerful performances, the standouts for me were Richard (played by Martin Roach) and Paul (Peter Outerbridge) who both managed to elevate the scenes they were in to another level. RJ Mite is on his A-game here as well, captivating with his storytelling and quickly making you forget used to him playing a much less deceitful and conniving character in Breaking Bad as he inhabits the character of a scumbag son so well.
I can’t recommend The Oak Room enough if you’re a fan of character driven, dialogue heavy films like Misery and don’t mind a lack of action or locations. This is a slow burn though, and if those turn you off I don’t know that The Oak Room is going to be the movie that will change your mind. This is what we in the Graveyard have lovingly dubbed a Dad Movie (in good company with other Dad Movies like Wind River and Hell or High Water), perfect for a few drinks on an easy Sunday evening. The Oak Room already screened once at Fantasia, but you can catch it’s encore live screening on August 31st if you live in Canada. Tickets and additional information about how the live screenings work is available here.
The Drunk in a Graveyard guide to the TEN FILMS we are most psyched about at Fantasia Fest 2020.
Our interview with Detention (返校) director John Hsu 徐漢強 is here and our review of Detention (返校) can be found here, coverage of The Undertaker’s Home (La Funeralia) is here, coverage of YOU CANNOT KILL DAVID ARQUETTE is here, Brea Grant’s 12 HOUR SHIFT and Ryan Spindell’s THE MORTUARY COLLECTION can be found on our latest podcast episode, and coverage of Amelia Moses’s BLEED WITH ME, 上田慎一郎 Shinichiro Ueda’s SPECIAL ACTORS, Neil Marshall’s THE RECKONING, short film DOPPELBÅNGER here, as well as our podcast episode on Justin McConnell’s documentary Clapboard Jungle here. And be sure to stay tuned for more coverage coming up soon, and follow our social media to keep up!
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