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The Forbidden Room (Blu-ray review)

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Guy Maddin and Evan Johnson’s The Forbidden Room (2015) [click to enlarge]

Since the birth of cinema in the late 1800s, the archiving and preservation of films has been a major problem. It is reported that 75% of all silent films have been completely lost and, while these occasionally find their way back into the public, it is unlikely that even a significant fraction of those still missing will ever see the light of day. It is in these lost films that Candian filmmaker Guy Maddin and newcomer Evan Johnson found precedent to write and direct their latest film — perhaps project is a better term? — The Forbidden Room.

I say project because The Forbidden Room is more than just a film it’s sort of an experience; a cinematic trip that viewers board for two hours before violently departing. The Forbidden Room is more than just what exists on this Blu-ray or vis-à-vis its digital projection (or however you may see it), Maddin and Johnson have also expanded it to an interactive project called Séances that is still set to premiere. The idea was to shoot a film a day in front of a live audience for decided upon amount of days (100 was Maddin’s original goal, but it was shortened to 30 for the film). The Forbidden Room is the more structured version of that experiment, although any viewer will find that structure is a loose term when it comes to Johnson and Maddin’s vision here.

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Guy Maddin and Evan Johnson’s The Forbidden Room (2015) [click to enlarge]

Each of the film’s segments are inspired by lost films, although that can range from the director’s having a great deal of information about the allegedly lost film or sometimes as little as just a title with Johnson and Maddin gleefully envisioning the work from scratch. Because of this, The Forbidden Room manages to both lack a central plot while at the same time contain numerous plot driven micro-narratives, most of which transition to the next before coming to a conclusion. Launching with the faux-Industrial entitled “How to take a Bath,” The Forbidden Room is sort of a cinematic Russian nesting doll meets Mobius strip, where shorts bleed into each other and results in a unstructured but nonetheless measured whole. The film is like a dream, with actors reoccurring throughout in different roles and without much sense of logic existing to guide viewers.

The best takeaway from the film lies in the stunning visual work done to the images. In what looks to be an extremely lengthy and detailed process, Johnson and Maddin tinker with nearly ever fabric of the digital presentation in order to craft what can only be described as the look of an image constantly in threat of disintegrating before our eyes. Addition color correction gives the digital imagery the look and feel (and feel is important, as it looks shockingly filmic) of a two-strip process Technicolor print. It’s quite a stunning presentation and certainly one of the most beautiful films of 2015.

Image deterioration in Guy Maddin and Evan Johnson's The Forbidden Room (2015) [click to enlarge]

Image deterioration in Guy Maddin and Evan Johnson’s The Forbidden Room (2015) [click to enlarge]

Maddin and Johnson craft an exhausting trip through cinema’s lost artifacts that will tests audience members’ patience but one that justifies every laborious moment along the way. Fatigue is clearly a goal of the work, which at two-hours is painstakingly obvious. In the commentary track Maddin states that his hope is that someone will rewatch the film in a few years and think that, while the whole is too much, there are some moments that are simply great. While certainly being a bit coy, Maddin’s comment rings of an important distinction, that The Forbidden Room is a film about the pieces being greater than the whole; about having a connection with the threads in the same way that you with the whole of the fabric. The Forbidden Room allows viewers to step back and appreciate a shot, a segment, a performance, without having to think about how that may add up to the final project.

Guy Maddin and Evan Johnson's The Forbidden Room (2015) [click to enlarge]

Guy Maddin and Evan Johnson’s The Forbidden Room (2015) [click to enlarge]

As the film continues to push on, it starts to feel like you have become trapped by its narrative. You’ve become lost in the forbidden room, where every exit leads not to freedom but to more lucid imagery. It’s a cinematic nightmare, or, better yet, maybe its a cinematic hell: a repetitious, bottomless experience that intentionally diverts comfort and coherence for a continual, visceral gut punch. You may enter The Forbidden Room but it’s not certain that you’ll ever leave, at least not the same person.

Guy Maddin and Evan Johnson's The Forbidden Room (2015) [click to enlarge]

Guy Maddin and Evan Johnson’s The Forbidden Room (2015) [click to enlarge]

The Forbidden Room is now available on Blu-ray via Kino Lorber.

Since the birth of cinema in the late 1800s, the archiving and preservation of films has been a major problem. It is reported that 75% of all silent films have been completely lost and, while these occasionally find their way back into the public, it is unlikely that even a significant fraction of those still missing will ever see the light of day. It is in these lost films that Candian filmmaker Guy Maddin and newcomer Evan Johnson found precedent to write and direct their latest…

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User Rating: 4.6 ( 1 votes)

About Joe Yanick

Joe Yanick is a writer, videographer, and film/music critic based in Brooklyn, NY. He is the former Managing Editor for Diabolique Magazine, as well as a contributing writer for Noisey.vice.com, and Stagebuddy.com. In addition, he has worked with the Cleveland International Film Festival as a Feature reviewer. He is currently a Cinema Studies MA Candidate at New York University.

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