Ghost hunting seems like a pretty boring obsession. You sit around in an empty house waiting, waiting, waiting for something to happen, and then, if you’re really lucky, a door mysteriously cracks open or the temperature drops a couple degrees. To say that “The Dead Room” captures the tedium of ghost hunting may seem like a backhanded compliment, but it is the best I can say for the film. With a fairly nondescript house, minimal incidental music, and no superfluous melodrama, Jason Stutter has stripped the paranormal-activity subgenre to its bare essence. The problem is that stripping away the frills reveals that these films basically consist of a few people standing around watching a light fixture jiggle.
The set-up is as basic as they come. A family has fled a remote house because they believe the property is haunted. The insurance company has called in a team of ghost hunters—Liam, the skeptic (Jed Brophy); Holly, the psychic (Laura Petersen); and Scott, the neutral (Jeffrey Thomas). They set up some motion cameras and break out the EMF sensors, and soon they find that a ghost returns to the house every night at 3 AM. The severity of the activity escalates to a potentially deadly degree.
The first two-thirds of the film, as the ghostly activity is amping up, are reasonably well-executed. The characters behave relatively rationally, and there is a bare minimum of the obnoxious skeptic-continues-to-deny-the-existence-of-the-paranormal-even-in-the-face-of-massive-evidence-to-the-contrary trope. The problem is simply that we’ve seen it all before. “Ghost Hunters” premiered over a decade ago. Every VOD service known to man is glutted with dozens of low-budget “Paranormal Activity” knockoffs. If this subgenre has any life left in it, Stutter hasn’t found it. Watching a couple lamps fly around the room just isn’t going to cut it anymore.
Even worse, “The Dead Room” takes a turn into outright silliness in its final third, and while I’m not opposed to silliness in horror—I typically prefer it to the po-faced seriousness that characterizes so much of the genre—here it feels rushed and arbitrary, like someone tacked a couple minutes from some low-grade “Evil Dead” knockoff on to the end of an unrelated film.
Ultimately, this film is probably best suited for those who take paranormal investigation seriously. Stutter seems to have taken some trouble to develop the story in a way that will please those viewers with a stack of EVP recorders sitting in their garages. For the rest of us, “The Dead Room” seems to take some really goofy ideas far too seriously. It feels like watching a really boring “Ghostbusters.”