'The Disappointments Room': Film Review

Peter Lovino
Haunted house movie creaks along with the floorboards.
9/9/2016

Kate Beckinsale returns to the horror genre in this story of a deserted house harboring dark secrets.

Kate Beckinsale’s brief return to classy film fare with last spring’s hit Love & Friendship (based on a Jane Austen story) comes to a screeching halt with the weekend release of The Disappointments Room. Actually, this horror film was made before the Whit Stillman opus but has been delayed because of the turmoil surrounding the distributor, Relativity Media. Now that the company has come out of bankruptcy, some of its library has begun to see the light of day. So viewers will find Beckinsale back in the exploitation field that she seemed to have fled. Fortunately for her, the new film will come and go quickly.

One can see what might have attracted Beckinsale to the project (aside from a paycheck). She plays Dana, a woman still recovering from the death of a baby daughter when her husband suggests that it would be good for her and their young son if they sought a change of scenery and moved to a deserted old house in the country. That is never a good idea, at least in schlock movies; you can be sure that disaster is lurking in the musty attic and leaking roof. No doubt the actress saw an opportunity to explore the psychology of grief, and she gives a compelling performance in scenes of mental anguish.

Unfortunately, the script by director D.J. Caruso (best known for thrillers Eagle Eye and Disturbia) and actor Wentworth Miller never goes beyond a routine haunted house scenario. The film gets its title from an apparently authentic bit of historical lore, whereby physically or mentally impaired children were sometimes locked away from public view in “disappointments rooms.” Needless to say, these abandoned children are not going to rest quietly, and the grim history of this troubled house intersects with Dana’s psychological fragility to endanger her and her family.

A hash of films like The Haunting, The Amityville Horror and Poltergeist (which is even referenced by one of the characters), the movie tries to upgrade its pedigree with a brief excerpt from the Orson Welles version of Jane Eyre, a classic tale of an undesirable person locked in an attic and wreaking havoc on the downstairs tenants. But there simply isn’t enough freshness in the script to warrant another journey inside a dark old house.

Caruso’s direction is slick and fluid enough, and gifted cinematographer Rogier Stoffers (Quills, School of Rock) makes the most of the house’s dark, eerie corners. But the performances are highly variable. Beckinsale delivers the goods, but Mel Raido as her impatient husband David never generates much sympathy. When Dana begins a flirtation with a cocky handyman (smoothly played by Lucas Till), we begin to hope that he might rescue her from the phlegmatic David, and that can’t have been the intention.

As Dana’s fears and fantasies spin out of control, we are treated to lurid images of hangings and ax murders, with Gerald McRaney cast as the satanic former master of the manse. But the film never generates any real suspense, and the ending seems particularly anticlimactic. Maybe the filmmakers were leaving the door open for a sequel, but that seems like a pipe dream. We can hope that Beckinsale is finished with horror for good.

Distributor: Rogue Pictures
Production companies: Demarest Films, Media Talent Group, Relativity Media
Cast: Kate Beckinsale, Mel Raido, Lucas Till, Duncan Joiner, Celia Weston, Gerald McRaney, Marcia De Rousse
Director: D.J. Caruso
Screenwriters: Wentworth Miller, D.J. Caruso
Producers: Sam Englebardt, William D. Johnson, Geyer Kosinski, Vincent Newman
Director of photography: Rogier Stoffers
Production designer: Tom Southwell
Costume designer: Marian Toy
Editor: Vince Filippone
Music: Brian Tyler

Rated R, 92 minutes

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