If someone's planning on including the word "disappointment" anywhere in the title of their film, they'd better make damn sure that the content within will be able to withstand a decent amount of scrutiny, else the criticisms will essentially write themselves. The situation could be made worse if the project musters an eye-catching trailer, one that might, y'know, set the audience up for an engaging experience that it can't deliver on, especially in the fickle realm of the horror genre. The Disappointments Room boasts quite a few elements that look interesting when kept in short two-minute packages, featuring a blonde, tendril-haired Kate Beckinsale moving through the ominous corridors of a large mansion as she deals with the rigors of haunted-house thrills and psychological horror. When stretched out across a feature-length movie, the potential of the atmosphere and of Beckinsale as a different sort of horror-movie victim than her typical modus operandi is kept locked away in this ill-conceived and unscary blunder from DJ Caruso.
The Disappointments Room follows the blueprints of many, many horror movies that came before it, where a family of three movies away from their city life to the rural calmness of small-town USA, buying up a mansion that fits what they've always wanted for their family home ... with a little remodeling. It's the perfect project for Dana (Beckinsale) and David (Mel Raido) to shoulder after enduring the trauma of losing their infant daughter, not to mention that it's right up Dana's wheelhouse being that she's an architect. While getting settled into their major fixer-upper of a house, along with situating their 5-year-old son, Lucas, Dana discovers that there's a peculiar room that doesn't appear on the floorplan for the house. A little research reveals that it's a "disappointments room", a place where well-to-do people hide away their children or loved ones with embarrassing physical or mental issues. Dana's investigation into this room, coupled with this new rural isolation, begins to have an impact on her own mental issues.
Director DJ Caruso, who took familiar voyeuristic elements found in the likes of Hitchcock's Rear Window and updated them in the surprisingly sharp Disturbia, aims to model the haunted-house concept in The Disappointments Room around Dana's deteriorating psychological condition. A handsome brick, ivy-covered North Carolina home offers a visually intriguing setting for the film's exterior shots, while unique perspectives inside a second space capture the symptoms of neglect and trauma through the unique winding staircases, darkened wood-paneled attics, and grimy textures inside The Disappointments Room itself. This is a fine arrangement of locations to shoot this sort of film, which periodically mirrors the disorderly and twisted state of Dana's mind, creating numerous scenes that, based purely on the visual tone alone, could form into an absorbing depiction of ambiguity as to whether the thing she's experiencing are merely figments of her psychosis.
The ambitiousness in focusing upon what's real and not in the events surrounding Dana also becomes The Disappointments Room's undoing. Despite a dull, routine introduction into the family's moving-in process and the film's early hints toward the harrowing events that caused them to relocate, writers Caruso and Wentworth Miller -- who also penned Park Chan-wook's tense and twisted English language debut, Stoker -- at first invite the audience's curiosity to decode the differences between psychological manifestations and the presence of supernatural beings within the house. There are so many shifts between reality, dreams, and hallucinations that The Disappointments Room loses any form of anchor within the story, which in turn causes one to give up on trusting what they're seeing and, thus, give up on caring one way or the other. Unsettling flashes of suicide, murder, brutal dog attacks, and other grotesqueness play out as a morbid hodgepodge of imagery with hardly any forward momentum.
Similar to moody horror dramas such as Birth or The Others that involve children, The Disappointments Room is designed around bleak twisted moods instead of direct scares, so it's up to the genuineness of what's going on and the responsiveness of the performances to draw us into the ominous atmosphere. Despite Kate Beckinsale's best efforts at projecting a strained and growingly unhinged mother coping with mental illness, writer/director Caruso draws out overly broad, stiff performances to enliven the script's unsubtle exposition and fraught dramatics, all hinged on Dana's experiences involving the literal and figurative ghosts contained within the secret room. Without any sort of obligation toward true jump-scares or shock value, the feeble dramatic value produces a dim, extra slow-burning hodgepodge of brazen psychosis and cumbersome supernatural red herrings, easily standing out as one of the most disappointing genre films to come out the woodwork and onto the big screen this year. Yeah, I know, I couldn't help myself.
Video and Audio:
The transfer from Fox Home Entertainment gets the mood right, but isn't without disappointments, either. The visuals for the film fluctuate in tone depending on whether scenes are taking place in flashbacks, in the "spirit realm", or in the current era, all of which appear properly desaturated or full of color, sporting warm and authentic skin tones and robust nature colors throughout the bulk of the film. Detail tends to be a tad flat in some areas of the digital photography, but woodgrains, tendrils of hair, and the grimy textures in the dilapidated focal room are clear and distinct enough to stand out. Contrast tends to be the area where the disc struggles, though, massively crushing out details in several dark sequences and neglecting to enhance depth where it should in some brighter outdoor sequences. The transfer could use a little fixing up here and there, but it gets the job done.
The 5.1 Dolby Digital track nails down the right atmosphere for the film throughout, engaging the surround channels for enhanced effect and delivering lower-end thump in the handful of sequences where it's required. Smaller sound elements are where the disc mostly excels, from the sounds of a turn-style cooking timer and the jangle of old skeleton keys hitting the floor, but other puncher effects like doors and hammers slamming down are robust and punchy. Dialogue is serviceably clear and responsive to front-channel separation, while fluctuations in the moderately atmospheric music are pronounced and respective to the other sound effects. This isn't a terribly engaging soundtrack, hinged on measured use of sound effects and tense dialogue, but the track from Fox provides a decent sonic foundation for the visuals.
Aside from a Theatrical Trailer (2:02, 16x9), The Disappointments Room arrives with one substantive extra: Unwanted: Inside The Disappointments Room (4:38, 16x9), a quick and dirty rundown of casting, production design, and the realities of the subject matter, featuring interviews with several cast members and director DJ Caruso.
Every year seems to have a specific monumental bomb in the horror genre that people tend to avoid due to how badly it gets beaten up by critics, and initially I thought, once all was said and done, that it would come down to either The Forest or The Darkness ultimately earning that distinction for 2016. Then, in walks The Disappointments Room with its tedious switches in perspective on reality and unpleasant subject matter, which manages to takes that spot instead. Showing promise as an atmospheric blend of psychological and supernatural horror for Kate Beckinsale to cope with inside a haunted-house environment, the latest from DJ Caruso instead manifests into something that's both dull and disarrayed in execution, unhelped by blunt performances and a script that lacked nuance. Skip It.