The life of Iris (Jennifer Prediger) has hit some kind of invisible wall. What little progress being made seems to be of a cyclical nature and, therefore, can hardly be considered progress. On some unconscious level, she knows this, but it’s not until a coffin is mysteriously delivered to her house that her mortality becomes impossible to ignore. Is the coffin a mistake, a threat or a friendly reminder from the universe? Whatever it is, it sends Iris into an existential tailspin.
Although it sports a morose concept with a smile, Living Room Coffin, written and directed by Michael Sarrow, isn’t anywhere near the dark comedy you might expect. There’s an unshakable, childlike levity to its proceedings. Even when Iris—spurned by that notorious combination of boredom and curiosity—decides to jump in the coffin and give it a spin, the scene lacks the bitter bite intended. There is, however, one particular scene where Iris is in a haunted house, talking with an old man in front of a mummified body—during their conversation, the mummy is always in frame, as if an active participant. The shot of the three stages of the human body—young, old and rotting—having something resembling a watercooler conversation is the film at its most wickedly amusing.
“Is the coffin a mistake, a threat or a friendly reminder from the universe?…”
Even if the film feels like it’s cruising with its dark comedy training wheels on, there’s still fun to be had with its leading incident, which is milked for all its comedic potential. The dialogue can sometimes be of the annoyingly twee variety—a blight on indie-comedies—but it’s also frequently clever and, what’s more, doesn’t feel the need to bring attention to its cleverness. There’s a confidence with which Sarrow approaches certain bits of dialogue—this is a confidence both in his own abilities as a writer and the audience’s ability as interpreters. For instance, there’s a moment when Iris’ grandmother (a hilarious Irene Roseen) implores Iris to join her at her mahjong games, because Iris “might meet a nice boy”—as if anything in the ballpark of “boy” could be found anywhere near a mahjong game. There’s another great line when Iris is standing above a loved one’s grave. Her ex-boyfriend attempts to comfort her by saying, “she’s looking down on you right now,” to which Iris replies, “I’m looking down on her right now.”
“…the story unfolds with an unwarranted amount of logic.”
Considering the absurdity of its set-up, the story unfolds with an unwarranted amount of logic. In response to a coffin arriving at her doorstep, Iris explores every possible explanation, from visiting the return address, the local funeral home, and even the residence of a woman who might have purchased a coffin that never arrived. It’s at the latter location where Iris meets a teenage girl who audibly wonders which circle of Hell her father is in and lands on “one of the middle ones.” The surprisingly clear-headed nature of Iris’ approach to uncovering the mystery of the coffin is both satisfying from a narrative sense and true to her character (the bookish type who takes vacations to Aspen without touching a slope because you could, you know, break something). I will say Iris’ romantic subplot with her on again/off again boyfriend borders on intolerable, for it’s here most of that twee, “look at how quirky I am” dialogue comes into play.
I can’t say I was completely content with the conclusion of the coffin conundrum, but Living Room Coffin has a good time getting there. From the knowledge that we’re all going to die, the film finds plenty to laugh about, but gently and with a wink. Because of this, it’s more accessible than, say, Woody Allen’s Love and Death, but, in turn, not as potent. The film is a perfect comedy about death for those not quite ready to fully accept the idea.
Living Room Coffin (2018) Directed by Michael Sarrow. Written by Michael Sarrow. Starring Jennifer Prediger, Blake Berris, Johnny Pemberton, Linas Phillips, Remy Bennett, Mark Boone Junior, Irene Roseen, Jeremiah Birkett, Richard Riehle, Debra Wilson.
3.5 out of 5