After watching The Disappointments Room, horror movie fans will know why “disappointment” is in the title.
While audiences have grown accustomed to the cheap scares that plague most PG-13 horror movies (The Lazarus Effect, The Forest, Krampus), R-rated horror films are supposed to offer something more. People have moved on from the days of now-cheesy slasher horror films like Halloween, Friday the 13th and A Nightmare on Elm Street. We expect more legitimate scares, more realistic violence, better plot lines and lots more blood. The Disappointments Room offers none of these things.
Directed by D. J. Caruso and produced by Relativity Media, the film centers around an architect, Dana (played by Kate Beckinsale) and her family’s move from the city into a house with a disturbing history.
The premise is familiar: a family looks for a fresh start and moves into an old rural home. A member of the family (in this film Dana) starts to notice odd things around the house. Other family members tell her she’s crazy and dismiss her visions. This sounds and looks like dozens of films that have been made before (The Amityville Horror, for example) and it’s use here feels trite.
While redecorating the house, Dana discovers a door hidden behind a cabinet in the attic. Her husband, David, helps her move the cabinet and together they get a better look at the door. The door is locked and David says to call a locksmith but Dana is intrigued. She later finds the key to the door and discovers a room that was not visible on the house’s blueprints. This is when more horror aspects start to show, but still the fear factor is relegated to nightmares, images of ghosts and strange sounds.
Dana then discovers that the room is called a “disappointments room,” a place where families would keep children with disabilities so they wouldn’t be seen, and learns the history of the home’s previous owner, Judge Blacker. Details about Blacker’s daughter frightens Dana. The audience soon discovers what happened to Dana and David’s own daughter and why it troubles the family.
But while some things are explained, the film does not do well with tying up loose ends. For example, Dana and David hire a handyman named Ben to help with redecorating the house. Dana finds a gravestone and asks Ben if he can dig it up, which he agrees to. After digging up the grave, Ben finds a skeleton and is attacked from behind by what is presumably Judge Blacker. Dana later goes to the gravestone to find Ben dead and hanging from a tree. The confusing part is when near the end of the film, Dana revisits the grave to find Ben’s corpse missing and the reason for this is never mentioned.
The film does play a bit with common horror clichés, like when Dana finds her son, Lucas, with his back turned talking to himself. Most of the audience would think that it is the old “child talks to a ghost” trope, but when Dana asks who he is talking to, Lucas turns around to reveal that he is talking to a cat he found.
And when the ghost of Judge Blacker tries to kill Lucas and Dana stops him by killing him with a hammer that he had, it’s unknown if Dana was imagining the whole thing because by the time David comes to stop her, no one is there and her violence is only frightening Lucas.
This was an R-rated horror film and with that kind of rating should have provided some some more violence or action than the cheap thrills of most PG-13 horror films. But in the end, it was mediocre and cliché. The film was probably rated R more because of its use of strong language than its violence, sex or gore. Now viewers have a new definition for the disappointments room: the theater where people were when they saw this film.