The Oak Room (2020)
Director: Cody Calahan
Cast: RJ Mitte, Peter Outerbridge, Ari Millen, Nicholas Campbell, Martin Roach, David Ferry, Amos Crawley
During a raging snowstorm, a drifter returns home to the blue-collar bar located in the remote Canadian town where he was born. When he offers to settle an old debt with a grizzled bartender by telling him a story, the night’s events quickly spin into a dark tale of mistaken identities, double-crosses and shocking violence. – IMDB
Being a big fan of Black Fawn Films ever since seeing the first one at Fantasia years ago, its always a fun time to see them back with another film. The Oak Room is a much different offering that takes place in the middle of snowstorm in Ontario bar tucked underground with stairs to descend. Its a film that focuses heavily on storytelling elements. As a young man Steve appears back home years after to settle a debt, he offers to tell a story to bartender Paul. Between this story about a bartender in the current reality and the one that Steve tells about another bar in a similar landscape, it all feels very random and separate. Except as the separate characters of both stories are revealed more and the conversation between Steve and Paul, revealing their issues and the past and father-son relationships and more, there is this tension that stews in the background that starts being stronger and stronger as the stories start making sense as to how it all works together. There’s some incredible execution to pair up the narrative.
Jeff Maher’s cinematography also grabs the bar setting incredibly well. It captures the dimly-lit setting of the bar but using the neon lights decoration to amp up the atmosphere. Its one of the reasons the opening scene is actually one that captures right from the beginning as it focuses on a bottle of beer sitting at the bar while a fight goes on out of focus in the background. There are a lot of those moments that give a mysterious vibe to the whole setting and pairs amazingly well with the story on hand.
With that said, the characters here are done really well. The two central characters is between a somewhat weaker character in the beginning that feels almost like he’s a bit useless in Steve, played by RJ Mitte. Steve’s character is one that develops a lot throughout as there is somewhat of a power change as the story he tells starts having a lot more substance to support his character and why he has come back. Facing Paul, played brilliantly by Peter Outerbridge, who is a strong character right from the start that commands the scene and has an upper hand over Steve. Steve and Paul play well off of each other. The same goes for the parallel scenes in the story about the other bar starring Michael (Ari Millen) and Richard (Martin Roach). Ari Millen and Martin Roach play their parts incredibly well also and play off of each other well. Their story actually wraps in a lot of tension.
The Oak Room is a really good movie. Probably one of my faves from Black Fawn Films and this year’s Fantasia Festival so far. There’s this breath of fresh air of how they execute this narrative-heavy story that’s all in the subtlety. The script and dialogue works incredibly well together and its executed on point to build the tension to build up this thriller. Amping up from one story to the next and reveals more and more of the connection between the stories and the characters and it all ends in this point that leaves a lot of space for the audience to guess what happens in the final moment. All that is thanks to timing and pacing of the the whole film that pulls everything together.