Sometimes, high concept means an absence of concept altogether. Like a sensory deprivation tank, the new non-thriller The Immaculate Room is so empty it dares you to fill it up with your own ideas and narrative stuff. Whether you’d like to bother is, of course, a personal matter. The set-up feels almost retro: Michael (Emile Hirsch) and Kate (Kate Bosworth) are a hip Millennial couple who submit to a kind of low-tech psych trial: Stay 50 days inside a cavernous all-white room, together, and win $5 million. Like lockdown, but with a payday.
Even if this were an actual exercise, its intentions and results are terribly predictable. Will love conquer scrilla? Writer-director Mukunda Michael Dewil is skimpy with details; we may well ask if Michael and Kate have wondered what, exactly, could be the ultimate point of the trial—bankrolled by an unseen “professor” who “has more money than God”—and if they haven’t wondered, why haven’t they? They seem interested only in the cash—a bad sign—and, strangely, never decide that sex could be an interesting way to fill up their otherwise vacant days.
The premise, and its unavoidably inherent cargo of moral tsk-tsking, would’ve stretched a 25-minute Twilight Zone episode.
The room could be an ultramodern Beverly Hills hotel suite. Their pajama uniforms, their tasteless diet (cartons labeled “food”), the digital clock ticking down the seconds, everything’s been pared down for maximum brain fry. They get bored, and so do we, a situation that doesn’t let up when they begin bickering, or once a loaded handgun suddenly appears in the bathroom. Holy Chekhov—are they being manipulated? (At one point, the clock reads 23 days left, and then it says 31, and no one notices—whether the “professor” is fucking with his subjects or Dewil made a mistake in the edit, we can’t say.)
The premise, and its unavoidably inherent cargo of moral tsk-tsking, would’ve stretched a 25-minute Twilight Zone episode. So, distractions are provided: The stir-crazy pair are allowed to request “treats,” at a substantial docking of their prize money—Michael first gets a fat crayon with which to draw on the walls, and then a nude actress (Ashley Greene), who has no idea what the gig might entail. (“They booked me for a month,” she says, shrugging.) Kate, once she relents, gets three hits of Ecstacy, and a sort of chaste, hallucination-tinged make-out orgy ensues. You wait for the one-act-play “Past Traumas” to emerge, and eventually, it does.
It’s all on the headliners—Hirsch is quite the worried chipmunk, and Bosworth is a great bottle-blonde moper made brittle by neuroses and aging. But there’s not a lot for the two of them to work with. The Immaculate Room seems to be a film about boredom—one that struggles to avoid being boring and yet attains tedium anyway, thanks to the straitjacket of its situation. Because it’s so lean, you can imagine a grand variety of mindfuck twists to expand the scenario; at the very least, I thought that the digital clock was a ruse and what feels like days passing is only hours, as has happened in many real psychological experiments. But Dewil, and perhaps his Chicken Soup for the Soul distributors, stick to their throughline and, ironically, make it all about the money. ❖
– • –
NOTE: The advertising disclaimer below does not apply to this article, nor any originating from the Village Voice editorial department, which does not accept paid links.
Advertising disclosure: We may receive compensation for some of the links in our stories. Thank you for supporting the Village Voice and our advertisers.