Friday, February 29, 2008

Regional Review: Room

Director Kyle Henry's debut fiction film, "Room", inspires comparison to the weird vibes present in a lot of David Lynch's dreamy narratives. And while Henry's film leaves just as much to be desired in way of commercial closure as Lynch's trips down nightmare alleys, the overall effect isn't quite as effective. Almost though... and that's a pretty good compliment.

Julia (Cindi Williams) is not your typical movie star. Middle aged, out of shape and average lower middle class, she makes ends meets by working nights in a bingo hall. She has two girls and a loving husband and a scrapped-together existence in Houston. Inexplicably, images start to imprint themselves in her head when she sleeps, eventually overtaking her emotions, causing random black outs. The visions, shown in saturated video clips which include a drone buzzing sound, reveal an unidentifed room. Unable to function and driven by the images, Julia robs her bingo hall and hops the first flight to New York. Once Henry's film globe-trots out of the muggy Houston atmosphere, the mood becomes strange and elliptical, neutralizing spoken dialogue for long stretches as Julia wanders New York City hoping she can find the room. Williams gives a believable performance, transitioning quietly from a subservient mom to obsessed seeker. And director Henry is clearly more interested in the evolution of this single character rather than servicing a story with logical resolution. Not only does Julia leave her suburban Texas life behind, but she initiates a one-night stand with a man in a bar (wearing a cowboy hat and calling himself Big Tex, naturally) and, in the movie's most vivid moment, seeks the advice of a fortune teller. It's a compelling scene that most closely resembles the cryptic impulses of Lynch.

Running only 70 minutes, University of Texas graduate Kyle Henry seems to be struggling with developing from short films and documentaries to feature length efforts, but "Room" showcases a distinct eye and ear for avant garde filmmaking nonetheless. "Room" was nominated at the 2006 Independent Spirit Awards for its John Cassavettes award. Henry's other cinematic passion is editing, and the subliminal cuts to Julia's disturbing images prove a deft touch in image and juxtaposition. The latent feel and expertise is there, now I'm wondering what Henry can do with a fully formed script. Produced by Michael Stipe and Jim McKay, "Room" benefits from their production company, C-Hundred Film Corp which seems to be a mainstay for true independent filmmaking. Not only have they produced a majority of McKay's own films (including "Our Song") but the films of Christopher Munch ("The Hours and the Times" and the hugely underrated "Sleepy Time Gal"). It's encouraging to see a company with disciplined attention on films that could fall through the cracks. "Room" certainly qualifies as one of those films, saved from extinction and breathing life into a burgeoning filmmaker. I look forward to what Henry does next.

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