Canadian feature The Oak Room is a lean, gripping, dark thriller with horror overtones that celebrates the art of storytelling. Its settings are two closed bars in isolated locations on bitterly cold nights with snowstorms, with each bar story set a week apart.
Prodigal son Steve (RJ Mitte) returns to his hometown after not bothering to do so for his father Gordon’s (Nicholas Campbell) funeral, and receives an unwelcoming reception from Gordon’s bartender buddy Paul (Peter Outerbridge). Paul has been saving Gordon’s ashes in a fishing tackle box, but he is not about to turn them over to Steve until the drifter son pays off a monetary debt. Steve tries to bargain to settle up with a story instead of cash, which kicks off the second tale set in another bar in which a stranger (Martin Roach) seeks a few minutes of shelter from an equally unwelcoming barkeep (Ari Millen).
Peter Genoway’s screenplay unfolds at a tantalizing pace, slowly revealing new, chilling elements, with Steve’s yarn spun ending first, beginning last. Paul implores him to get to the point and to goose the truth — that is, to embellish the details in the manner of a classic fishing yarn. Director Cody Calahan (Let Her Out, Antisocial, Antisocial 2, Vicious Fun) wrings the tension superbly and gives the film an intimate feel. You can almost feel the cold from outside the barroom and smell the beer, but these are two taverns of which you will want to steer well clear.
It would be a crime to give away The Oak Room’s secrets here, so suffice it to say that the minimalist elements at play, the superb acting on display, the edge-of-the-seat suspense wrought from a fine screenplay and crackerjack direction, and the constant sense of lurking danger and dread all make for a highly recommended motion picture.
The Oak Room screened as part of Popcorn Frights Wicked Weekend, which ran October 29–November 1, 2020.