Fantasia 2020: ‘The Oak Room’ (2020) Movie Review

The Oak Room was directed by Cody Calahan (Let Her Out 2016 – read our review here) from a script written by Peter Genoway (Masks 2017). The film stars RJ Mitte (Breaking Bad TV series), Peter Outerbridge (Saw VI 2009), Ari Millen (Orphan Black TV series), Martin Roach (The Shape Of Water 2017 – read our review here), and Nicholas Campbell (Boondock Saints 1999). The Oak Room made its world premiere at this year’s Fantasia International Film Festival.

The Oak Room, directed by Cody Calahan and written by Peter Genoway—based on his stage play of the same name—is one exceptional piece of storytelling that has found a worthy home with genre distributor Black Fawn Films (Harpoon 2019 – read our review here, Bite 2015 – read our review here, The Ranger 2018 – read our review here).

A snowy night in the Great White North provides the perfect backdrop for hardened barkeep Paul (Outerbridge) to have an unexpected run in with Steve (Mitte), a young man returning to his hometown after drifting for some time. Clearly displaying hostility based on history, the dynamic between Paul and Steve immediately intrigues and sets a tone of unease within the small, snowbound bar.

It’s closing time, and Paul is not amused with the surprise visit, eliciting a grizzled reception for Steve that lays out a slippery slope between the two. With this, we as an audience are left to decipher the exact nature of their relationship, which is simply the beginning of an intricate web successfully spun by its stellar cast, crew, and creators.

During the course of an evening, intriguing stories are swapped amongst bartenders, pretenders, and patrons in a steady, deliberate, and ultimately diabolical timeline that evokes remarkable dread. The Oak Room shines with its sharp dialogue, talented cast, and the impressive juggling of its narrative where it pays a dubious tribute to the tall tales heard at the local tavern and the individuals who tell them. With only a handful of characters introduced and a minuscule number of sets, the success of this film hinges on its talent in front of and behind the camera. The Oak Room proves that limited filming locations shouldn’t hinder a production, especially if you’re good at what you do. Scenes play out in neon-soaked atmospheres crafted from astute artists which could not be pulled off without the engaging exchanges brought forth from a worthy blueprint and good ol’ fashioned acting chops.

What begins as an uncomfortable reunion ends up revealing a surprising crime and a twisted truth. Copious amounts of suspicion help fuel this slow burn, which successfully transitions this one act stage play into a feature film with enough mood and atmosphere to shake a hockey stick at.

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