At the start of Empty Rooms we meet Maddie (Ramlah Frediani) who is being shown around a property by a realtor. The money they’re asking for it makes it seem like a bargain and without much persuasion she soon signs on the dotted line. Recently separated, Maddie is having a hard time getting any maintenance payments from her ex-husband, and coupled with the fact her son Jonah (Charlie Koudsi) is both autistic and mute, life is pretty tough.
The move goes to plan, albeit Jonah as expected is a little bit on edge with his new surroundings but Maddie is lucky enough to have her hippy sister Amber (Tegan Ashton Cohan) stay with her for the first night. The first moment of strange phenomena occurs the following day when Maddie is in the shower. Out of nowhere she is grabbed by a hand which leads her to fall and hit her head on the toilet. Dazed, and after a moment of unconsciousness she presumes it must have been Jonah that did it and she gives him a strong verbal warning. In doing so she notices some of the recent artwork that Jonah has been creating, one of which is a very vivid pencil sketch of an imposing man completely naked.
Immediately Maddie seeks out a doctor for support for Jonah, and he arranges to pay her son a visit the following day. The doctor seems happy with the idea that any change in Jonah’s behaviour is attributable solely to the move. Later that evening however, an intruder somehow enters the house and has an alarming similarity to the person that Jonah drew in his sketch, and so begins a number of strange occurrences that impact the lives of Maddie and her young son cataclysmically.
Empty Rooms made me jump out of my skin. How often can you say that about a horror movie? Undoubtedly the key factor for this is Meredith Yayanos’ score which exemplifies everything that a score for a horror movie should incorporate. It’s haunting, it’s jarring and it heightens the tension immeasurably during the most frightening scenes. The director Adam Lamas has stated that the only instruction he gave was “early 20th century, Eastern Block classical”, then let her have pretty much free reign.
This IS a low budget film, and more mainstream conditioned viewers may sneer at the limitations displayed by the constraints of a micro-budget. However, with a lead performance like the one delivered by Ramlah Frediani and excellent taught direction, you really owe it to yourself to unleash those big budget shackles and get on to a fine piece of independent horror filmmaking.
7 out of 10
Avid readers of my reviews will be familiar with my regular disdain and somewhat irate rants directed at the distributors who acquire then release low budget horror movies while treating them with the minimum of respect. One such recipient of a recent rant was the label Three Wolves whose recent title Texas Roadside Massacre had to endure the embarrassment of a title change (from Roadside Massacre) despite no action taking place in Texas, a chainsaw wielding maniac on the cover despite the absence of one in the film. This was as well as a bogus cover quote, an incorrect running time and also a five star user review on Amazon from someone that only seemed to review films supplied by Three Wolves, and coincidentally always awarded them top rating (same for this feature).
With the release of Empty Rooms I came across another error of staggering ineptitude. I was noting down the credits for this review off the back of the case when it occurred to me they’ve actually put the wrong credits on the cover. Instead of Empty Rooms, they’ve listed the contributors to a 2002 TV movie called Snow Queen which starred Bridget Fonda. Apologies for my bluntness, but this is embarrassing. In the UK market we have companies like Arrow, Second Sight and 88 Films treating our genre with the utmost respect, and then we have people like Three Wolves releasing this and bypassing the necessary quality control. This is Adam Lamas’ first feature in a good while and he’s likely to have sweat blood just to get it made, so don’t treat the art with such disdain Three Wolves. We’re not mugs, we like our genre pictures treated with the respect they deserve, and with a film like this you should be proud for it to grace your label.