The Forbidden Room (2015) Poster

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Truly Unique - a precious commodity these days
Giantjott10 August 2019
In a time when Hollywood seems completely incapable of creating anything original (not b/c it's all been done before, which I would argue is the case for music, but b/c Hollywood is run by non-creatives who only look at dollar signs and are terrified of risk), the unique works of Guy Maddin stand out like a precious stone. Love him or hate him, you have to admire his dedication. For the layperson, his films are often hard to access or decipher. In this way, his works remind me of the late great David Lynch (he's not dead, but seemingly retired). I am not as well-versed in Maddin films as I am with Lynch, but I'm also not the first to point out their similarities. For one, they have a very similar soundscape. This film in particular employs Lynch's standard drones of dread, synthesized melancholic strings, and industrial sfx. However, Maddin adequately stakes out his own territory, as well. His employment and recreation of various vintage film stocks is somehow both convincing and unique. His tendency to embrace distortion and outdated special effects goes further than I've seen with any other filmmakers.

As far as plot, the film employs a standard concept, the story within a story, but it also takes this concept further than I've ever seen done before. The narrative structure is in fact two nesting russian dolls, presented one after the other. The framing story (not counting the bookends which feature a hilarious Louis Negin giving bath-taking advice) concerns a group of men marooned inside a submarine, unable to resurface due to a large block of melting jelly which will explode if depressurized. But then the impossible happens. Not unlike the supernatural events in Tarkovsky's Solaris, a lumberjack suddenly appears in the submarine, unaware of how he got there. From this scenario, we enter the story of the lumberjack's last memories. Before this concludes however, we've gone off on another tangent, another story within the story. And thus continues the narrative, falling further and further down the rabbit hole, until finally, as if coming up for air, we reverse directions and begin to zoom out, resolving one story at a time, until we're back in the submarine. However, as I mentioned before, this is only one of two plunges the movie makes before we receive a conclusion to the tail of the submariners.

The titular Forbidden Room refers, I believe, to the Captain's Quarters, but also derives from a 1914 silent film now considered to be lost. Which leads me to the second big concept of the film. All of the stories, vignettes, and tangential meanderings are based on silent films which can no longer be viewed, as they have either been lost or destroyed. This part I didn't know going into the movie, though I wish I had, for it adds an interesting element to the often surreal storylines. For a moment, when the film was just beginning, I had a tinge of worry that it would be an exercise in style over substance, and I know many would agree with me on this. However, as the different concepts were picked up and dropped, I became engrossed in the tone shifts, in turns erotic, surreal, melancholy, and humorous, and realized I was being swept up in the narratives.

For those uninitiated in an intentionally bombastic visual style, the Brechtian effect of constantly being reminded that you are watching a film may prove too difficult to overcome. But for those of you who can enjoy an attack on the senses, such as with Natural Born Killers, while still managing to pierce through the surface level and immerse themselves in the plot buried underneath, this film might be for you. And if it isn't, don't despair. I readily admit, this is one of the harder films to access. Just don't make the mistake of writing a belligerent review employing extremes and absolutes. We've already got plenty of those, as typified by most of the reviews for The Forbidden Room. Although, I have to admit, there is a certain comical irony to seeing a reviewer call a film impenetrable, inaccessible, undecipherable, only to be followed by a glowing review written by someone who has seemingly done the impossible - deciphered a plot!! There is definitely a plot here, and though it was a struggle at times, I managed to retain my awareness of which stories were inside of which, which stories had finished and which had yet to be resolved, etc. So give it a shot. Hopefully this review has, to some extent, prepared you for what you are about to see. And if it isn't working for you, turn it off. But please, for the love of god, don't tell me about the hours you invested which you will never get back. Nobody gives a rat's bottom about your stupid precious hour, especially when you continued to waste time by writing an asinine review about your experience.
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A journey to the center of film
Rizzleness29 January 2015
This film, like all those of Guy Maddin, has married the weirdness of David Lynch with the love of film and quirkiness of Wes Anderson, all wrapped up in a unique visual style like no other. It's absolutely gorgeous, a true adventure in filmmaking and film watching filled with dreams- within-dreams and stories-within-stories. It is like a love letter to the history of movies that blends silent films, noir, action, myth, comedy, musicals, and even instructional films into an absurd, self-referential ball.

But before you go running out to see it, you should know that it has zero interest in entertaining you. Seriously. It's dense, confusing and difficult to follow, and a tedious slog. There's no plot, if by plot you mean something that will emotionally resonate with you and keep you engaged with following the story or characters. Viewers should be the kind of masochist film geeks who enjoy subjecting themselves to such pain and then feel enlightened for doing so.
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Non-Linear Masterpiece
Jahful28 September 2015
OK, if you hate the way Yorgos Lanthimos just terminates movies right before the dénouement, or if you kinda hated how nonsensical Mullholland Drive was (please, just watch it again, really), The Forbidden Room is not recommended viewing. This is a movie for people who are in love with the visual art-form of cinema, the technical history of it (especially full-colour processing), and who have an absolute love of classic pre-code movies. And those who may have accidentally tried a cup of mushroom tea. There is no linear story arc, but there are many snippets of a beautifully reimagined bygone age. Don't be afraid. It's super-watchable and actually has some high-brow humour in it, It has Charlotte Rampling and the utterly fantastic Louis Negin, and the visual film treatments are just unbelievable. This is a movie for all levels of consciousness simultaneously. I have to give this movie a 10 because for me, it's so spectacular it couldn't be any less. Forget Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, this is the real thing. (Sorry Terry, I'm sure you'll understand.)
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Might reward a patient viewer
andychrist274 December 2015
I had a strange experience with this one. I was ready to walk out after an hour or so (and many people did walk out)...but I'm glad I didn't. It simply takes time to see that there is a structure behind all this madness and different story layers do fit in together and compose a meaningful whole.

To be fair, this one is definitely not for everyone. It requires patience and at least some kind of appreciation towards the absurd to really get into this film. But it can reward you if you give it a try. For a lack of better comparison, I would mention INLAND EMPIRE here (not that the methods used by Maddin/Johnson are similar to Lynch's...but the overall effect is somewhat close to it). In the end, both of those movies build themselves into some kind of emotional rapture which overcomes the analytical mind.

Or maybe you'll simply hate this movie, which is pretty likely too.
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Ultimately Kind of Tedious
bruwhi25 July 2016
I admire the film making and the art direction for The Forbidden Room, but while it initially dazzles, it quickly becomes rather tedious. There is no real payoff for the effort it takes to sit through it, and it does take some effort. The most entertaining part for me is the opening titles. The only movie I can compare it to is Stalker, and it isn't a fair comparison. While both share the washed-out, sepia tone Lynch-like visual style, Stalker has a discernible plot beyond just its style. I'd love to intellectualize the film and say it has deeper meaning, but outside of the art direction and distressed film look, after sitting through it I've decided there is just no "there" there.
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This is a visual monster.
garethcrook18 May 2018
It's the kind of film that art house film students dream of. In fact visually it looks very much like an art house film students dream! There's text all over the screen, bits of narration and a truly bizarre story. It's pretty original, it's funny (I think intentionally) and it's nuts. Totally nuts!! Sadly a bit too nuts, good but not great. It sometimes feels like a silent film, with words appearing to help the narrative... but with sound. Some of it struggles and needs some patience, but by enlarge it's fantastic, in every sense of the word. The screen pulses and throbs with energy, it's beautifully crafted. Stories intermingle, twist, plots within plots, within dreams. My one criticism is it's too long, not by a lot, but it would benefit from losing a good 20 minutes. A minor quibble.
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Not the best
Red-Barracuda21 November 2016
In fairness, this sounds like quite a good idea on paper. A bunch of lost movies from the silent era have been put on film by using old reviews as building blocks. What's more, the idea of visually representing this material by way reproducing the look of old film stock and silent movie techniques seems like a pretty good one. But what it ultimately comes down to is that old adage that some ideas sound far better on paper than they are in practise. At the outset I was pretty much on board with this one and appreciating the visual ideas and general oddness of the content but after half an hour or so I was basically struggling. The visual style, while well done, is basically so relentless that it becomes increasingly difficult keeping your mind on any of the content. So much so that for the most part of this I was staring at it as you would wallpaper. Pretty wallpaper admittedly but staring at a wall for extended periods is hard going and ultimately a somewhat mind-numbing endeavour.

I don't think there is any point summarising the plot. I cannot see what good that could possibly achieve. But suffice to say that that the material is dealt with in a part surrealist, part absurdist manner. There is even a few interesting actors involved in this as well but they are pretty much lost is the mix also. As I said earlier there is an interesting visual aesthetic at play here and the concept has potential as an idea but, despite all this, I found this to be a thoroughly unengaging experience. It felt way too long clocking in at two hours as well and, in the final analysis, I more or less hated watching this interminable film.
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PIST-OFF21 January 2021
A not quite silent, sort of Lynchian film, only kind of works. If you're looking for a normal movie movie, this is going to be a frustrating 2 hours of your life. If you don't mind the occasional experimental fare, then step right up. I suppose explaining the "plot" would be futile as the movie kind of drifts ala Slacker or Waking Life through quasi Freudian situations. Although there does seem to be repeated nesting structures.... i.e. a story within a story within a story.... before pulling back to move onto the next story. This almost seems like the kind of thing that would be playing on a loop in a modern art museum's gift shop TV. I would strongly avoid watching this on acid, but then again maybe that IS the way to watch it.
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Five intertwined stories without a common theme failed to provide for interesting contents
JvH4827 April 2015
Saw this at the IMAGINE film festival 2015 in Amsterdam. Walked out after one hour, nearly half of the 130 minutes running time. I did not understand a thing about what it was all about from the outset, but I allowed it some slack due to the overly positive introductory talk by the festival's artistic director. He told us about the abundance of references to films from the silent period (I don't think I care). The format is blatantly weird in taking trouble to look like a film from the silent period, with seemingly missing pieces and imperfect material, though we know that this film is recently made, as such leading to the conclusion that these imperfections are added as a gimmick and defeating any useful purpose. It may resonate with film professionals, however, but what do I know.

There is no edible story (actually five stories I've heard or read somewhere, craft-fully intertwined). I could not derive anything in common that could have served as a binding theme. It may be so that the binding element(s) were to be revealed later on, but I did not wait until the final revelation, and left. Anyway, other festival visitors who sat it out until the very end, did not make much of it either, as it scored a lowly 36th (out of 45) place for the audience award with average score 6.78 (out of 10).
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Poetic like a Thomas Bernhard novel
franklindf13 March 2016
I realize that a lot of people are going to be put off by the abstract, artistic nature of this film. But what it lacks in cohesion, it more than makes up for in style - similar to poetry, this film is very expressive and doesn't follow any particular norms for film making. It's very visually striking, and for me this was a large part of the enjoyment. Although it has references to films from the silent film era, this film doesn't necessarily keep to a specific style. At times it is sensual and erotic, at other times it's violent and shocking. I believe the intent was to adhere to a certain randomness in both the events portrayed, as well as the tone and visual style; this makes the film follow a seemingly arbitrary path. To me it was visually beautiful and compelling, and I never lost interest. I was impressed by how ambitious it was, with a huge variety of scenes, actors, events. Obviously, the film is very nonlinear and I think the best way to enjoy it is with the expectation of a visual and thematic journey, a series of emotional and artistic events strung loosely together to form a dreamlike storyline.
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Hypno inducing and dreamy
jatigre17 January 2018
It is impossible to talk about the movie without mentioning the ongoing project Seances dot nfb dot ca. What can you say... It's Guy Madding, Evan Johnson and Galen Johnson, so expect to be in a trance for two hours. The amazing soundtrack will put anyone to sleep (which is not a bad thing!). I tend to disagree with some viewers when they comment that the movie is "non-linear". I find it to be absolutely linear, with it's nested stories driving you towards a path that is much like a dream, if you could actually recall one. A story within a story, within a story... But its absolutely perfectly structured, with a beginning middle and end for each story. I recommend watching multiple times, preferably in bed just before going to sleep. You'll realize that all the judder from your mind is silenced, and the movie will carry you to your own forbidden room.
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Berlin to Bogata
deastman_uk19 February 2016
On the face of it, this silly story within story romp through Saturday morning films of a previous generation should be ignored.

It is not a pastiche - and the strange punk lurid dream style is both art and annoyance. But the style is to no useful end.

And to force an audience to revisit bad early American cinema 'somewhere between Berlin and Bogotá' for 2 hours, with gentle mocking of early 20th century sexual strictures, is quite unfair.

It plays out as being more appropriate for a repeating segment in a high concept sketch show than a cinema production. A short experiment of 15 minutes maybe. But to inflict real people to this at full film length seems strangely tragic.
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Terrible, I invested an hour of my life I will never get back
wayneluscombe21 September 2016
I did not enjoy this film. In fact after investing an hour trying to watch it, I had to give up. Some reviewers have used the terms "deep" and a "slog" to get through. Well it was deeper than I wanted to go, and slog is an understatement. I was not able to figure out a plot, it appeared to be a jumble of disconnected clips randomly strung together that made no sense. The harsh flickering high contrast filming style with it's strange pulsation graphic images in the background, was like watching something from the psychedelic 60's. The flickering was like watching a strobe light. The scenes were short and jumped from scene to scene like something from Sesame Street. If you are a fan of Pulp Fiction, you may be able to sit through this film long enough to figure it out. For me, it was an hour of my life I will never get back.
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This movie is a NIGHTMARE
GeoData18 March 2018
This film is not entertainment. It is so strange, I find it psychotic. Nothing in it, or the multitude of sub-stories strung together from beginning to end, have meaning. No characters are likable, comprehensive or sane.

I purchased this film based upon reviews as a "masterpiece". They lied.
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Room with a View
sol-26 November 2016
About as far removed from a conventional narrative as possible, this highly experimental movie from Guy Maddin juggles a raft of plots with subjects as diverse as bathing habits, doppelganger theory, deep sea mysteries and a doctor whose obsession with bones interferes with his work. Even more bizarre than Maddin's rather random jumping between plots, however, is the visual style he brings to the project with black and white and tinted sequences, silent movie style title cards, deteriorating stock footage and the list goes on. The film has a found footage feel to it -- think Craig Baldwin's pseudo-documentaries and you will know what to expect -- however by providing no logic to the flipping in and out of stories, Maddin does not manage to spin an experimental movie half as enticing as Baldwin's seminal works. To call the film 'uneven' would be a massive understatement. At its best, 'The Forbidden Room' is laugh-out-loud funny - with Louis Negin offering a very funny take on 1950s basic hygiene movies - and memorable - with a catchy song about derrieres. These high points are very few and far between though and the majority of the movie is too convoluted to generate laughs with characters so paper thin that they are simply not interesting to follow around. With its uncanny visuals, daringness to be different and hilarious odd bits, 'The Forbidden Room' is not a film that should be dismissed altogether. It takes a lot of patience though to get through. There is reason why experiment movies usually are not as long as this effort is.
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Unwatchable excess of post-production
AholeAndy12 May 2018
I see what Madden was going for--a kind of tribute to the old-school adventure films of the early 1900s, but whatever he had in mind is ultimately lost in interwoven excess of choppy editing that would make David Fincher blush. Every inch of the films is sliced to bits and stitched through various quotes and distorted images that bleed together from scene to scene. The production design is low budget though accurate for what the director is going for and the cinematography contains some lovely shots that feel like they belong in a movie 80 years ago, but the camera is shaky on a Greengrass level that--coupled with the fragmented editing--makes it hard to even look at the screen. It is as though the director set up everything to be vintage and then decided to film it like a 21st century spy thriller. The final straw is the music--a blaring array of organs and orchestras that teeter in and out of tone and are as choppy and unpleasant as the rest of the film. I don't understand how this could have been shown to people in it's current form nonetheless how it was shown to critics and met with applause--it has a certified fresh rating on RT and is in the top 100 of 2015. "The Forbidden Room" is like a big practical joke perpetrated by all of critical media to get interested film buffs to sit through the movie equivalent of pouring battery acid in your eyes while listening to a group of Chimpanzees screw.
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A true vision - or series of them
ThurstonHunger7 September 2019
I've seen at least four, maybe more, Maddin films, and this was my favorite thusfar. That said if you read the main tag here, or the griping reviews, yeah it's a non-linear film.

The other thing for me is the flickering processing of his films, can be hypnagogic for me. This one in particular reminded me of the fact that a Berkeley professor has been working on visually capturing peoples dreams (but as I recall his methods are extremely crude). Maddin here with help from former student Evan Johnson, has a more refined dream-like feel, things seemed more rough-hewn in his earlier films, and while this still has warps, twists and bleeds visually, it just looked cleaner overall.

But the pulsing images/colors, they are tough on the small screen, and honestly I did watch this over two nights.

People who feel David Lynch's "Twin Peaks" reunion tours were a disappointment, might like this film (and others from Maddin). Or Udo Kier fans. Or people who like a vague thread of thrillers (trapped underseas in a submarine, or stalked by an Aswang - Filipino vampire). But again anything resembling a story is at best a flavor, although there are vignettes packaged in the nearly two hour long work.

But stuff does resurface, even if the submarine may not. Baths, as led off fantastically by "Marv" (Maddin favorite, Louis Negin). Actors are used/reused, silent movie subtitles share time with "talkies." Monsters and Valcano (sic) sacrifice....

While I understand some folks are put off, perhaps do a little research and maybe watch the trailer, I for one applaud Maddin's dedication to his vision.
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One of the best things I've seen in ages. A feast for imagination. Watched it three times already.
Emeknicks4 September 2020
If one could neurojack into the deepest darkest heart of cinema these are the hallucinations one might experience. Explosions of celluloid disintegration ripping your eyes. Decades of film unravel in chaotic cluster forming layer upon layer through which we must crawl and claw. Maddin is a mad genius. Godard talked about the end of cinema...I think it looks like this.
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Eye-Popping Splash of Colorful & Interesting Images & Stunning Depth of Field
LeonLouisRicci16 March 2016
Preposterous and Playful, Postmodern Surrealism, is a Stab at Defining the Work of Director Guy Maddin. His Influences may be David Lynch, Luis Bunuel, Salvador Dali, Silent Movies, Jackson Pollock, and the (Kitch)en Sink.

Maddin is a Maddman, Maniacally making Movies that are so Visually Stunning that it is Possible to Enjoy His Art like Wallpaper. You can even turn the Sound Off (although even His aural chops are interesting sound samples).

Back in the Psychedelic Sixties, Clubs and Private Parties often included, as Ambiance, Visual Projections on the wall for Background and Atmosphere that Added an Other Worldly Feel and a Treat for those Experiencing an Altered State of Consciousness.

This Film attains that Disconnect with Saturation of Colors and Bizarre Images that have Tenuous Connections to what is Going On. What is Going On is in the "Eye of the Beholder" as the Filmmaker makes very Little Attempt at Continuity or Commonplace. Things seem to be there for Wonderment and Awe and if it makes some sort of Sense, so be it.

The Joy in Watching Maddin's latest Film is in the Richness of the Retro, Painted with Modern Technological Techniques that Mimic Ancient Technological Techniques that Stimulate Synapsis with a Dopamine Enhancing External Input of Unfamiliar Familiarity.

Forget about Storytelling, that is a Hook that Maddin only Hints at and when He does it is with a Giggle and a Guffaw. This is Eyeball Popping for Eyeball Popping Sake. It is Splashed on the Screen with a Purpose that has very Little Purpose other than to Stimulate and Entertain. It's Low-Brow Flourishing with High-Brow Conceit.

It's the Kind of Film (and there are very few like it) that makes Wes Anderson's Work seem Mainstream. This could be Enjoyed in 30 Minute Splashes because Nothing is Really Connected.

It's a Kaleidoscope of Thin Threaded Attachment that doesn't Require or Expect a Two Hour Concoction of This Sort to be Anything but Spurts of Quirky Nonsense done with no other Purpose than to Unreel, Impress, and Unreel some more, and Provoke, then Unreel, Unreel, and it is all Gloriously and Completely Unreal.
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Loved the look, hated the storytelling
gbill-748778 November 2020
Creative visually, tedious narratively. This came from a place that I just couldn't reach. Maybe someday. Not today.
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Wes Anderson on Peyote channeling David Lynch
debree113831 May 2020
This is a feast for the senses. Cinematically, The Forbidden Room is Valentine to filmmaking from the Silent Era to Talkies. Guy Maddin has clearly viewed a plethora of films and synthesized them into this masterpiece. It moves at a fast pace and the two hours will pass Quickly. Get ready for an unconventional film that will cover alternate dimensions, tantra, neurological disorders, psychiatry, manual labor, god and goddess worship and the heroes quest. Every minute Maddin is using the screen as a canvass with varied masterful brush strokes. It is packed with a great cast, wonderful silent film effects, chromogenic color palette, and a joyous ending that is a thorough as a well written dissertation.

It is as if Joseph Campbell took psilocybin and made this film. Watch twice with sub-titles.
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Unwatchable anti-art.
mike-c-b6 April 2020
Every scene has post-production "shake" in it, making it unwatchable unless you are "trembling in fear" in empathy along with it.

There is no real art (people living for themselves, surviving well in weird and wonderful ways), in it's place there are people expressing downward spirals, giving in, giving up, not defending themselves against others. Boss vs boss. Degeneracy. Ugly faces. Ugly spiralling music. Just a lot of people needing a lot of help.
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mcs5829 December 2019
Of time. Life is too short. Vomit emoji. For some reason I have to say more because my review was too short. And this movie continues to waste my time
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