The Red Room ****
Last year I reviewed the excellent short film Henry John and the Little Bug written and directed by J.T. Mollner and starring Mikos Zavros. That film, which received much attention following its premiere at the Hollyshorts Festival in Hollywood on August 8th 2010, was Mollner’s third short feature following horror Sunday Evening and thriller The Red Room. Now, thanks to star Zavros, I have been awarded the opportunity to view The Red Room which premiered at the SoCal Independent Film Festival in September 2008 and was the first of the three films to be shot on 35mm film.
In the middle of an uncharacteristically chilly Los Angeles night, 2 men meet for the first time on a rooftop, somewhere downtown. One of the men, Dr. Hadley Prince (Nathan Russell), is calm and in control. The other man, Mr. Nicholas Rowen (Mikos Zavros), has come with an envelope full of cash. He is shaky, sweaty, and visibly nervous. As the evening progresses, Hadley leads Nick to an upscale top floor apartment, a quiet balcony, and ultimately into the strange revealing confines of The Red Room: where right and wrong, love and hate, even life and death....are all relative.
The opening pre credits sequence at the start of The Red Room helps to establish a very unsettling tone that is present for pretty much the entire duration of the film. Utilising little more than a slow zoom in, emphasised ambient noise and some tense musical accompaniment that builds up to almost unbearable levels, this scene is a masterpiece in tension, making us feels completely unsettled before we even know what is actually going on. Following this scene we go to the rooftop then onto the balcony of the apartment which provides the main setting for the film, these scenes boasting sensational cinematography which, courtesy of some brilliant work by director of photography Kevin Atkinson, manages to be vibrant without losing the dark edge that he is clearly going for and dark without it ever being hard to make out what is going on, all the shots boasting rich and well balanced composition. The cinematography is very effective and the way that often seen clichés are taken and made to seem fresh is particularly noteworthy, the sight of shadows being cast on walls being visually chilling, slow motion being used to build the suspense and lingering extreme close-up shots of the characters taking sips from glasses, inhaling smoke and starting with an unsettling gaze creating a distinct feel that all is not quite right. And, of course, all is not quite right, although the gentlemanly way that the two men have a conversation, share a drink or two and have a smoke does create a slight sense of an almost innocent conversation between two decent and honourable men, albeit one that we can just tell is harbouring a more sinister side, the impression being created through their mannerisms that these ‘gentlemen’ have a dark, twisted and perhaps even sadistic side. The brilliant acting from both actors makes this whole thing work superbly, Mikos Zavros making his character seem genuinely on edge, almost broken and emotionally scarred – the reason for which becomes clear at the end of the film – making us believe that his character is about to do something very unsavoury, something that part of him really does not want to do, while Nathan Russell’s calmer more relaxed stance creates an equal sense of a character about to do something unpleasant, albeit one who clearly has fewer reservations. The choice of musical accompaniment in these scenes is perfect, superbly enhancing the tones being portrayed on screen while the conversation works well because of strong writing by writer and director J.T. Mollner, whose work here is every bit as exceptional as it was in Henry John and the Little Bug and whose revelation as to exactly what awaits in The Red Room is rather shocking and somewhat disturbing, being something that you would almost certainly won’t see coming. While I can’t say much without giving the game away, I will state that this very well done twist in the tale helps to cast new light on both of the characters and make us rethink the behaviours and motives of both during the whole film up to this point. Proving to be surprisingly moving as well as sinister, The Red Room is an extremely well made short film that slowly builds up the tension in masterful fashion and truly does surprise with its ending revelation. In an email to myself, Zavros described the film as being “dark and in the vein of Twilight Zone. With a shocker ending” – it would be hard to summise The Red Room much better than this but I will add that is in the vein of The Twilight Zone at its very best.
Review by Robert Mann BA (Hons)