The Forbidden Room

Canada. Directed by Guy Maddin (co-directed by Evan Johnson), 2015. Starring Roy Dupuis, Clara Furey, Louis Negin, Udo Kier, Gregory Hlady, Mathieu Almaric, Noel Burton, Geraldine Chaplin, Charlotte Rampling, Amira Casar, Ariane Labed, Caroline Dhavernas, Karine Vanasse. 130 minutes. 8/10

2015 seems to have been a banner year for films seemingly designed to leave the viewer asking “What the Hell was that?” like Krusty the Clown after an episode of Worker & Parasite. We’ve already had the absurdist nightmare A Pigeon Sat on a Bench Reflecting on Existence. Now, Canadian Guy Maddin and collaborator Evan Johnson go on location in the human subconscious to bring us The Forbidden Room.

Things start with detailed instructions on how to take a bath, and gets weirder from there. A submarine crew trapped on their vessel with unstable explosives encounter a lumberjack (actually an aspiring lumberjack, or “saplingjack”) who appears suddenly and mysteriously, and relates a tale of attempting to rescue a beautiful woman named Margot from a gang of vicious thugs who worship a volcano. Margot, meanwhile, dreams of being trapped and amnesiac in a strange city, pursued by vampires. It’s something like an anthology film, which each story also serving as a narrative nesting doll for another story, and so on.

A few years ago I watched a movie called Anguish, which contains a scene in which people watch a movie about a guy watching a movie. That really impressed me, but The Forbidden Room goes so much deeper, until we get Udo Kier’s mustache–I am not even remotely fucking with you on this one–dreaming about a man whose cursed bust of the Roman god Janus causes his dark side to become manifest, kind of like Jekyll and Hyde, except in this case Hyde’s name is actually Lug-Lug.

Maddin seems to have a relationship with silent films and early talkies similar to the one Quentin Tarantino has with ’60s and ’70s foreign exploitation films, and he and Johnson take great pains to recreate that aesthetic in The Forbidden Room: sepia-toned or monochrome colorization, intertitle cards, obvious rear-projection backgrounds, adorably primitive SFX. Most importantly, their goal is apparently to replicate the oneiric quality of early motion pictures. When the Red Wolves sacrifice a tire to their volcano god, or when vampire bananas threaten Margot, these weird events actually do operate on a distinct form of dream logic based on the symbols of the subconscious mind. The film often feels like an adaptation of a big book of Freudian dream interpretations.

The end result is a big beautiful mess of a picture, almost always pretty to look at and to listen to, usually amusing and often laugh-out-loud funny, and featuring a sublime brand-new song from art-rock wisenheimers Sparks called “The Final Derriere.” On the downside, the proceedings are usually extremely hard to follow, and I didn’t find the overall film engaging enough to justify its two-hours-plus running time.

Then again, like the dreams it evokes, The Forbidden Room doesn’t seem meant to be easily followed. If I’m correct in my interpretation of Maddin and Johnson’s intent, the filmmakers achieved exactly what they wished with this film; enjoying it is the audience’s problem. The Forbidden Room is Art, and that’s how Art works.


Samantha Hill stars in THE EDITOR.

The Editor

Canada. Directed by Adam Brooks and Matthew Kennedy, 2014. Starring Adam Brooks, Matthew Kennedy, Conor Sweeney, Paz de la Huerta, Samantha Hill. 95 minutes. 6/10

Ah, giallo! Who among us does not revere that elegant Italian art form, that rapturous combination of lush cinematography, lurid sex, black-gloved hands holding straight-razors, and poor English-language dubbing? The giallo revival, which has given us films such as Amer and Sonno Profondo and influenced the likes of Berberian Sound Studio, has progressed to the point where parody is now possible. Enter Astron-6, the Canadian wiseasses responsible for Manborg and Father’s Day.

Rey Ciso (Adam Brooks) was once the world’s greatest film editor, but a gruesome accident with a splicer cost him several fingers, his reputation, and his sanity. Having recovered from a nervous breakdown, he’s now a shadow of his former self, reduced to working on sleazy grindhouse pictures. When the actors on his latest project turn up murdered, police detective Peter Porfiry (Matthew Kennedy) fingers him as the number one suspect. Can Ciso prove his innocence and expose the real killer? Or is Detective Porfiry right after all?

Brooks and Kennedy, who also co-wrote (with actor Conor Sweeney) and co-directed The Editor, have crafted a film largely immune to criticism. They have re-created a particular style of film from a bygone era, the kind they really don’t make anymore. (All the neo-gialli I’ve seen are largely artsy stylistic exercises–they may look like the real deal but they certainly don’t feel it.) The flaws–poor acting, incoherent narrative–are deliberate; if The Editor can be described as “bad” then it is certainly by design. And how do you review something intended to be bad?

Despite my bluster and bombast three paragraphs ago, I have always been a bit iffy on giallo. I’m not opposed to it but neither am I an enthusiast. They sound awesome when I hear about them but then I actually see one and can’t help but be let down. I’m not really the movie’s target audience.

That’s not to say that it didn’t elicit a few laughs–for example, whenever the dialog is particularly awkward (“I am in our home!” Ciso calls to his wife when he gets home from work), or on those occasions when someone spots a “cigarette burn” on the film. Udo Kier, Tristan Risk, and Laurence R. Harvey do what they do best in their minor roles, and while Paz de la Huerta’s acting hasn’t improved since…ever…here it’s actually an asset, not a liability.

Ultimately, then, The Editor is one of those films you either get or you don’t. If you prefer to spend your evenings curled up watching a Bava or an Argento, make a beeline for this one (assuming you haven’t already). On the other hand, if you don’t know your giallo from a hole in the ground, this is probably not the place to start.