‘The Oak Room’ — a slow burner with a rich horror story

‘The Oak Room’ — a slow burner with a rich horror story
‘The Oak Room’ (2020). Supplied
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Updated 30 June 2020

‘The Oak Room’ — a slow burner with a rich horror story

‘The Oak Room’ — a slow burner with a rich horror story

CHENNAI: The late Ismail Merchant, who made magnificent cinema along with James Ivory, would often say a good movie must tell a good story. Cody Calahan’s (“Let Her Out”, “Antisocial”) newest film “The Oak Room,” part of the recent Cannes Market held on a virtual platform, true to Merchant’s thinking, is rich in the way it builds up the plot and conveys it.

The work, one of the 56 titles that the Cannes Film Festival picked but could not screen as the coronavirus pandemic stopped the 12-day event in May, begins on a cold, icy night with a blizzard raging, an apt setting for a gothic horror. The mysterious happenings revolve around a Canadian snowstorm, making the movie a compelling watch. 




The film stars R.J. Mitte and Peter Outerbridge. Supplied

Amid this gloomy and dark night, Steve (R. J. Mitte) walks into a bar, just about to pull down its shutters. After many years, he returns to repay an old debt to bartender Paul (Peter Outerbridge). But Steve tells a rather annoyed Paul that he would give back the dues in the form of a story. What slowly emerges is a terrible tale of mistaken identities, brutal violence (including decapitation) and a threat to expose the town’s secrets. 

Written by Peter Genoway (an adaptation of his own stage production), “The Oak Room” — despite being a chamber piece, and with just a couple of characters on the screen most of the time — gets you completely engrossed in the lives of the two men. The film draws you into the suspense with studied precision until it reaches an exploding point, throwing up twisted facts and sheer gore, even while examining a father-son relationship.

Most brilliantly portrayed by Mitte and Outerbridge, the narrative demands one’s undivided attention. Otherwise, viewers can lose the thread of the plot. Calahan throws subtle hints and peppers his story with clues. But they are not easy to spot, and “The Oak Room” is certainly not for one who may wander in and out of the room to take a phone call or get a bag of popcorn.


Post revolution, Sudanese cinema struggles to find recognition at home

Post revolution, Sudanese cinema struggles to find recognition at home
Talal Afifi, director of the Khartoum-based Sudan Film Factory program. (Supplied)
Updated 24 January 2021

Post revolution, Sudanese cinema struggles to find recognition at home

Post revolution, Sudanese cinema struggles to find recognition at home
  • Bashir’s government aborted all cultural and artistic initiatives and fought ... diversity and freedom of opinion, says Talal Afifi, director of the Khartoum-based Sudan Film Factory program

CAIRO: Sudanese filmmakers who celebrated the end of stifling restrictions following the ouster of autocrat Omar Bashir have won multiple international awards but are yet to enjoy the same recognition at home.
Cinema languished in the North African country through three decades of authoritarian rule by Bashir.
But Sudanese took to the streets to demand freedom, peace and social justice, and Bashir’s ironfisted rule came to an end in a palace coup by the army in April 2019.
“We started realizing how much our society needs our dreams,” said director Amjad Abou Alala.
His 2019 film “You Will Die at Twenty” was both Sudan’s first Oscar entry and the first Sudanese film broadcast on Netflix, winning prizes at international film festivals including Italy’s Venice and Egypt’s El Gouna.
The film tells the story of a young man a mystic predicts will die at age 20. As Sudan undergoes a precarious political transition, the country’s filmmakers have found more space to operate, Alala said.
Young filmmakers act “without the complexes, the lack of self-confidence or the frustration that we suffered in previous generations,” he added.
Talal Afifi, director of the Khartoum-based Sudan Film Factory program, has trained hundreds of young people in filmmaking.
Bashir’s government “aborted all cultural and artistic initiatives and fought ... diversity and freedom of opinion, through policies of alleged Islamization and Arabization,” he said.
Afifi began work long before the 2019 revolution, with advances in digital camera technology making filmmaking far more accessible.
The filmmaker attended a 2008 short film festival in Munich, where the winning film — an Iraqi documentary shot on a handy-cam — inspired him to return home and set up a training center and production house.
In the past decades, the Film Factory has organized some 30 screenwriting, directing and editing workshops — and produced more than 60 short films, honored in international festivals from Brazil to Japan.
Afifi says the roots of Sudan’s innovative cinema was born from the “hard work dating from before” Bashir’s overthrow, when many cinemas were closed.
Today, cinemas are allowed — big-budget Hollywood films, as well as Indian and Egyptian movies are popular — but moves to reopen them have been frustrated by restrictions to stem the spread of the novel coronavirus.
The Sudanese National Museum organized screenings of films, including “You Will Die at Twenty,” but they were not screened in large theaters.
Filmmakers still face challenges. Hajjooj Kuka, director of the acclaimed 2014 “Beats of the Antonov” was jailed for two months last year for causing a “public nuisance” — for what he said was an acting workshop.
Other Sudanese films have also garnered international attention, including the 2019 documentary “Talking About Trees” by Suhaib Gasmelbari, which tells the story of four elderly Sudanese filmmakers with a passion for movies.
The quartet and their “Sudanese Film Club” work to reopen an open-air cinema in Omdurman, the city across the Nile from the capital Khartoum.