Thursday, September 15, 2016

The Forbidden Room

   We've all had late nights that had us convinced we were certifiable insomniacs. You know the kind of night I'm talking about. You're crashed on the couch, the TV is on, and it's helping you drift. You're not really paying attention to what you're watching, but the combination of moving images and background noise is... helping, somehow. Fast forward to the next morning, and you can recall a smattering of shows and/or movies, at about five minutes apiece. You remember stuff you saw, but there's virtually no context to any of it. Cannibals and intergalactic war one minute, an infomercial on bath mats the next. That... is what The Forbidden Room feels like.

   It's an anthology of short stories, all nested within each other like the dream within a dream thing from Inception. Overall, though, the movie is basically a love letter to the old, forgotten and lost movies of the 20's and 30's. The plots of the short stories are absurd, when they're even understandable. Otherwise they're just completely impenetrable. One minute you're following the story of a lumberjack trying to rescue his true love from a gang of bandits, the next you're entering the dream of a mustache, fantasizing about it's owner returning home for his last farewell. Yeah. The Forbidden Room is surreal in the best way possible.

   I've read reviews of the movie online from people who didn't like it, claiming it was artsy nonsense, or that they "didn't get it", and that "only a critic could like this movie". Hah! Yes! The movie is artsy nonsense! Like that's automatically a bad thing? And! There isn't anything to get. And! The irony about the last complaint is that everyone is a critic. The moment you form an opinion about something, you're a critic. The only difference between the guy at the 7-11 complaining about Man of Steel, and me? I write my criticisms down. The difference between me and someone like AO Scott? He gets paid to do this shit. I don't. Ergo, The Forbidden Room is not a pretentious movie only for cinema snobs (what people really mean when they say 'critic') it's a movie for people who love the art of movies themselves.

   I'll reiterate, it's a love letter to a bygone age of cinema that has a whole host of forgotten treasures. The shorts in this movie all feel like they could have really existed, and that's hilarious to me. Because I have flipped through TV channels on a few late nights, and I end up only ever watching five minutes of whatever, and it feels exactly like this. A movie about giant ants, a movie about lovesick zombies, WHO KNOWS? It's all random fragments of movies I'm never going to run into again. The Forbidden Room is that very concept in a standalone nutshell.

   The movie reminds me of a book by Chris Van Allsburg (the author of Jumanji) called The Mysteries of Harris Burdick. The book simply consisted of fantastical illustrations, one per page, and then an accompanying caption. Allowing readers to use their imagination to expand on the prompt and fashion their own story. The Forbidden Room is a lot like that. It's a perfect midnight movie, given it's wild visuals, rampant scenery chewing, surreal absurdity, and it's short attention span. The whole style of the movie is that of old black and whites and silent films, although the movie is neither silent or black and white.

   Nevertheless, while there's a whole budding sub-genre of films striving to bring back exploitation and grindhouse (i.e. Hobo With a Shotgun) this is one of the few aiming for an even older aesthetic. Some of it's more trippy visual gimmicks might get old, and the non-linear storytelling is by it's very concept hard to get invested in, in any meaningful way, the movie is still fantastic. It's incredibly imaginative and accurately captures the feeling of the era. It'd be great in a double feature with The Call of Cthulhu, a 2005 silent movie that you'd swear was actually made in 1920-something. The Forbidden Room isn't so much a movie as it is an experience. It's unique, and fun, and sometimes it drags, sometimes it wears thin, but it's consistently entertaining regardless.

   There's plenty of familiar faces in the cast, like, Udo Kier, Charlotte Rampling, and Mathieu Almaric, and most of them are playing no less than three roles throughout. The movie is a creative, imaginative, and colorful feast for the eyes and the mind. Murder, mayhem, betrayal, lumberjacks, flapjacks, a volcano, women skeletons, and lots of derrieres. I recommend The Forbidden Room to lovers of bizarre cinema and seekers of oddity. I'm not really sure it'd appeal to anyone else, but who knows? Give it a shot. You might be surprised.

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