Review: Room 33 (2009)

Horror Movie Mini-Review by Zeus | 2014-06-30

Room 33 (2009)

A van full of kids break down in a creepy forest and take shelter in an abandoned asylum. This particular bunch of kids belong to a women's roller derby team, so points for trying. Along the way, the team picked up a young preppy couple who crashed their car after swerving to avoid a deer -- or something. Allie (Austin Highsmith) is a brunette with a sweet personality, modest attire, and high chance of survival. Her boyfriend Chad, with his disheveled hair and eternally popped collar, looks like a frat boy undergoing some sort of cocaine-induced psychosis. (Imagining he was Dennis from It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia got me through some rough patches.) Team strongwoman Sarah (Nina Hauser) also got me through some rough patches. She runs at full bitch and makes no apologies, nor should she have to. In a better movie, she'd be the female equivalent to Ash, a cocky loudmouth who insults their way to the end of the movie. But make no mistake, this is not a better movie. Allie is the obvious Final Girl, and Sarah is relegated to the thankless role of second-tier antagonist.

The van runs out of gas just outside a conveniently placed asylum, the sort of place urban explorers would love if it weren't located out in the middle of nowhere. A crazy young woman attacks Sarah, then recoils into the corner. Her name is Roxy, and she's deathly afraid of someone -- or something (I'm not going to quit doing that). It turns out Roxy has good reason to be afraid. A teleporting, black-eyed man in a trenchcoat begins to whittle down the cast with a series of off-camera kills. His first victim is Natasha, the Russian roller-derby player, and it's a good thing, too. There's no way she could have maintained that awful accent for very long. Considering I had steeled myself for a mad doctor or family of hillbilly cannibals, the supernatural Man in Black was a welcome surprise, sort of low budget Tall Man. Did I say low budget? Silly me, it's not like Phantasm had much of a budget. No, this is more of a low talent Tall Man. Actor Taras Los projects no menace. There's a scene where he appears behind a character in the corner of the frame, and he looks like a friendly sidekick. This guy has all the screen presence of a curious onlooker who dropped by to see how movies are made and accidentally wandered into frame.

The rest of the characters aren't much better. Nelson (Ace Gibson) is a modern take on Mantan Moreland, all popped-eyes and slack-jawed cowardice. Not that he acts stereotypically black. Those particular mannerisms are reserved for Stuart, the white bearded cameraman tech guru pervert, who talks like B-Rad from Malibu's Most Wanted. Bambi is everything her name implies. Even Sarah, dear bitchy Sarah, starts to lose me when she straps on her rollerblades and morosely skates around the asylum. Nothing says fun like tripping over debris and falling face-first into rusty medical equipment.

As her friends are killed off, Allie unravels the mystery of the titular "Room 33." It all comes down to a blink-and-you'll-miss it scene of her pawing through a file cabinet. Something about experiments involving Roxy's father and LSD, an interesting idea that's not bungled so much as instantly forgotten. There's one good line about Roxy's dead father "crawling out of her head" to kill people, and that's about it. If you love trippy stories about people opening mental portals to very dark places, watch Banshe Chapter, or Re-Animator -- or something, anything besides this. The one thing that didn't disappoint was the music. The score is far better than it has any right to be. Now and then it borders on a reverence for 80s synth I would have thought that they had cribbed from Maniac or Drive. But Room 33 predates both those movies, meaning the composer drew inspiration from classic soundtracks, rather than trying to cash in on a current trend.

Except for the supernatural Man in Black, this movie is comprised entirely of cliché: flashy editing, strobe lights, disposable characters, and I swear, they do that jumpscare where a dark figure passes in front of the camera three or four times within the first 30 minutes. Now, there's nothing inherently wrong with clichés. They can be as warm and familiar as an old jacket. 80s slasher movies are like an old dude who wears that ratty jacket because it's what he's always worn. Post-modern horror movies like Scream and Cabin in the Woods are like hipsters who wear the old jacket because they found a new use for it. But movies like Room 33 completely lack imagination -- they rely on clichés because they have to. They wear the old jacket because they found it lying in a ditch and have nothing better to wear. Room 33 is so bad, it's inspiring. I always keep an eye out for diamonds in the rough, which results in an overexposure to witty, well-crafted indie darlings. This is the perfect palette cleanser, a horror movie oblivious to its own stupidity, with just enough entertainment to keep me watching, and so little quality I'm bound to score my next review five stars by comparison.

Review Score: 2/5.

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