Boy, you’ve got to love films that come along, catch you by surprise and leave you grinning from ear to ear as the credits roll.

Cody Calahan’s The Oak Room is one such film, a movie I took on reviewing duties for purely on a snappy synopsis and effective poster (tagline ‘You’re not going to believe what happened at The Oak Room) – but it turns out to be so much more.

Based on a 2013 play by Peter Genoway (who adapts his own material here), the set-up is simplicity itself – a young guy turns up at a Canadian bar at closing time in the middle of a blizzard.

Turns out not only does the guy (Steve – RJ Mitte) know the bartender Paul (Peter Outerbridge), but it seems Steve’s name is mud for a variety of reasons, including the fact he owes people money – and that he ditched town and didn’t return for his father’s funeral, which Paul had to then organise and pay for.

Anyways, Paul gives Steve a beer and tells him it’s time to settle the debts. Steve’s reply? To plonk a beer mat for The Oak Room on the bar and say that as payment he will offer up a story regarding this other establishment. Paul’s reaction (every other word is an expletive) is as expected, but turns out this story may be something he wants to hear…

I really do not want to say much more in terms of the plot, as the delights of The Oak Room include some masterful misdirection and a couple of moments where the rug was pulled from under my feet.

At the outset I had no idea the film was an adaptation of a play, but looking back it makes perfect sense – a few exterior shots of cars in the snow (and a flashback sequence) aside, the action takes place inside two darkened, empty bars, but that simply makes things more intimate and tense.

The performances are wonderful all round, with Mitte and Outerbridge sparking off each other brilliantly, while Ari Millen, Martin Roach and Nicholas Campbell (who play characters at The Oak Room) all keep things ticking over nicely.

Calahan keeps things simple, but dials up the content as and when necessary (things do get bloody), but the script is the key here – and boy does Genoway’s work deliver. Cleverly written, The Oak Room, much like the fishing tackle referred to in the story, hooks you, reels you in and has you at its mercy.

Highly recommended.

Fantasia Review: The Oak Room
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About The Author

Simon Fitzjohn

Simon is a journalism tutor in London, who also just happens to be a movie fanatic, with a craving for the darker side of cinema. He has written three books - on the horror films of director Bob Clark (2014), the history of the character Norman Bates (2015) and the work of British exploitation director Pete Walker (2017). He is currently working with director Richard Loncraine to explore all avenues in a bid to orchestrate the re-release of 1978 Mia Farrow chiller Full Circle