If you want an idea of what to expect from “Room,” think “Pi” without the filling. Writer-director Kyle Henry’s debut feature is a tedious tease that parades assorted sensations and signifiers past the audience for nearly an hour and a half before sputtering out in a rush of incomprehensible visual noise. If the movie’s about anything, Henry forgot to pass the information along to his viewers.
Julia (Cyndi Williams) is an overweight Texas mom with a stable home life and a crappy job at a bingo parlor until she begins suffering inexplicable migraines. Each time her head starts aching, she experiences sharp, staticy visions of an empty loft. Once her headaches become intolerable, she steals money from her workplace, abandons her family, and jets off to New York City, in which she hopes to find the mysterious chamber that’s calling her. Add in a smidgen of domestic drama, a one night stand that feels like a non sequitur, and uninteresting exchanges with a few walk-on characters, and you’ve got the movie. Just don’t expect any of this to amount to much.
Shot on grungy HD with a generally appealing handmade quality, “Room” builds up credibility in its early scenes. The bits establishing Julia’s family relationships and work tensions are competent, and Williams is a naturalistic performer. Especially since her look is the opposite of what we’re accustomed to seeing in movies, she easily convinces as an everywoman. It’s to her great credit that she never overstays her welcome, even though the movie around her does, so one hopes she finds a better showcase for her talents down the road.
Creating a pervasive mood through careful editing, jarring inserts of the weird visions, and a menacing score, Henry builds expectations that one of the story elements will blossom into something creepy, or at least intriguing. But after about 30 minutes of inactivity — during which we receive no further clues about the nature of Julia’s visions — it starts to become clear we’re being taken for a ride to nowhere.
That suspicion becomes inarguable fact once the movie shifts from Texas to New York. Henry subjects viewers to innumerable shots of Julia wandering around the Big Apple with a concerned look on her face, expanding the visions only enough to suggest that she’s “seen” other parts of the city that serve as clues she’s getting closer to her goal. In one typically pointless sequence, Julia stands in the middle of Times Square, scanning the view while Henry’s camera zooms aimlessly through one angle of flashing neon after another. This sort of aimless nonsense wouldn’t pass muster in a freshman-year student film, so it’s downright pathetic content in a festival entry bearing the name of executive producer Michael Stipe.