The Forbidden Room

2015 Guy Maddin movie

Rating: 16/20

Plot: Submariners who may or may not be in a bathtub find themselves in trouble as they are quickly running out of air and are carrying an explosive jelly that will ignite if they try to surface. A mysterious lumberjack appears on board as the "hopeless men, hopelessly chewing" their flapjacks (you know, because of the air pockets) wonder where their captain is hiding. The lumberjack recalls trials--finger snapping, offal piling, testicle weighing, bladder slapping--in the lair of red wolves in an effort to retrieve a beautiful kidnapped woman. Then, she escapes on her own, through the doorway in a dream, and a guy sings a song about derrieres. Geraldine Chaplin cracks a whip; there's a squid theft; a volcano eats up fish, fowl, tire, necklaces, and tapioca pudding; a windmill guy searches for a new gardening boy; ducks cause a motorcycle accident; a bone doctor falls in love before female skeletal insurance defrauders force him to wear a leotard; a pelvic train contains a battle between a madman and a psychiatrist; a mustache has a dream; and a man tries to outbid his doppelganger at an auction for a bust of Janus. Then, Marv finishes up his lecture on bathing.

This very well could be Guy Maddin's masterpiece, but I'll refrain from officially naming it that until after I see it again and see if it all adds up to anything meaningful. Not that it has to, but it would be nice. This series of looping, oft-hallucinatory vignettes can be tedious, and that's coming from me, a person who enjoys weird movies and who is used to Maddin's warped homages to a cinema of the distant past. For somebody not acclimated to this sort of avant-nonsense, I can imagine it would be extremely tedious, and this definitely isn't the Guy Maddin movie to start with if you haven't seen him before.

There's a lot to love for the Maddin-phile. The performances are great, inflated 20s-era melodrama with the performers shot from odd angles and with odder lighting and colors. I especially liked Louis Negin as Marv (our guide to bathing in the fake instructional footage that bookends this) and a bunch of others. Maria de Medeiros, Mathieu Amalric, Udo Kier, Geraldine Chaplin, and others all play several different roles. There's antiquated special effects that simultaneously recall Melies and making you wonder how in the hell they were pulled off. The underwater submarine shots, a really cool-looking volcano (spelled valcano for some reason in title cards), the interior of a cave. It all looks very cool, especially with the odd color scheme and warbling effects Maddin utilizes throughout. Of course, it'll likely make a lot of viewers dizzy and/or sick, too. The music, by the director along with Galen Johnson (a philosophy professor, according to Wikipedia) and frequent Maddin-collaborator Jason Staczek, is all over the place but fits each mood and cinematic style represented perfectly. The music's probably best when the "women skeletons!" are forcing the poor bone doctor into that poisonous leotard.

Oh, wait. Did you think I was making up stuff in that plot synopsis? I wasn't. All that actually happened.

The styles are all over the place, recalling Universal monster movies, German expressionist stuff, 20's melodrama and slapstick, 60's sci-fi b-movies, war movies, and pretty much anything else you can think of. It's experimental and difficult, but always with that sneakily silly humor that Maddin squeezes into his stories, humor with a generous helping of the absurd. Maddin's title cards crack me up, I think because of the gratuitous exclamation points! And I dare you to watch "The Final Derriere," a musical number in a movie that isn't a musical, without a smile on your face. Geraldine Chaplin cracking a whip, a trio of lobotomies, a line like "Your brain is now as smooth as a little boy's bottom." It's really something special. The visuals frequently warble, for better or for worse, and it's heavy on the rotoscoping and double (or quadruple) exposure shots. Not everybody's going to appreciate what they're seeing, but I sincerely doubt anybody can watch this and say it's like something they've seen before.

Maddin's a director who's not afraid to take chances, and here, he's taking more of a variety of them. I'm not saying everything that happens in this movie is a glowing success, but for me, it's a thrill to see an established filmmaker challenging himself so much and trying so many different things in one 2 hour movie. Adventurous movie lovers should definitely check this out, but again, I wouldn't watch it before giving My Winnipeg or Careful or Brand Upon the Brain! a try first.

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