Imagine for a moment, the cold sterile steel of the metal gurney against your soft flesh, all around you doctors and nurses are abuzz scrubbing and sterilizing their scalpels. The bright florescent lights overhead radiate beams of blinding white heat toward your exposed flesh. Suddenly you open your bloodshot eyes. Hyperaware of the impending doom you are unable to move as if your arms and legs were thousands of pounds of lead weight dragging your body down into the bowels of hell. You can feel every microscopic hair on your gleaming skin standing on end. They must know the truth, you are awake, you are aware, and you can sense the hot sting of the blade against you. Finally from the very depths of your soul, you deftly maneuver a single finger to the stainless tray of shiny surgical steel, slowly sending one delicate instrument tumbling to the linoleum below. With a deafening bounce, the surgeon steadily subtracts the blade from your delicate skin and steps back. Soon your savior leans over and with a soft and knowing smile, utters the clearest and most concise of understandings – “my dear, we know you’re awake.”
What you were just witness to would easily have been one of the most chilling short films to have ever been perpetrated. A calling card that many a director would simply sever a limb to be in charge of. A mastery of sheer unexpurgated terror sewed up inside a surreal nightmare from which you may never waken. This is the opening scene of the latest film from Writer/Director Michael Hurst and Writer/Producer Mark Altman – the duo who brought you House of the Dead 2 and the upcoming Darkroom. What transcends comprehension is how a pair of arguably competent filmmakers could achieve such a taunt and precise measurement of infinite terror and then allow it to be unraveled by following with 90 odd minutes of formula fast presentation is beyond me.
Christine Taylor (The Craft) is Amy, and Amy carries a dark secret around her. Hanging on every moment of her seemingly idyllic life is the specter of a tragic past. Something has forced Amy to fear hospitals at a level that most of us will never grasp. On her way home from a surprisingly strange day of work, Amy and her boyfriend Nick (Shane Brolly of Underworld) survive a near fatal car crash, only to have Nick taken away to a mysterious hospital that no one seems to be able to find. Amy along with fellow crash survivor Lucas (Scream 2 alumni Jerry O’Connell) must search through a world that is slowly morphing before their eyes into a purgatory of faceless monsters, and find their loved ones before the fates seal them off forever.
Altman and Hurst had obviously been watching Jacob’s Ladder a few too many times when they opted to take Amy on this journey into hell. The film, which has a twist ending that has become such a cliché over the years that the mention of one name would all but ruin the entire film for you, is as obvious as any post Sixth Sense psychological mystery that has come down the hallowed halls of your local video store. But even with a seemingly hopeless issue at hand, Room 6 is still better than so many other flawed thrillers. And what makes the film stand in advance of mediocrity is the genuine care taken by the cast and effects crews in crafting powerful scenes.
The performances, specifically that of Christine Taylor are a mile ahead of what we would generally come to accept from a low budget horror film. Taylor who has made a career out of playing sexy girl next door types in a rash of comedies from The Brady Bunch to Dodgeball puts so much of herself into her characterization of Amy that she virtually defies the audience to not sympathize with her plight. In a film where audience identification is key to creating a believable story, the filmmakers could not have done better than bringing Taylor’s skilled empathy to the table. Jerry O’Connell who often plays off his natural goofball tendencies does a fair job but is slightly hampered by his dialogue, which if you pay close attention, gives away too much story. The devil may be in the details, but Altman and Hurst are abusing their knowledge of the outcome and sidestepping what could have been effective mystery. Fanboys will want to keep an eye or two out for Kane Hodder who makes a grand appearance as a homeless man who kicks O’Connell’s ass but good.
The effects on Room 6 are the true highlight of the film. Utilizing smart and none-to-overt make-up for the monsters adds a great eerie quality to the production. In addition, the blood is played for impact and not exploitation. Sure the rivers run crimson hues all across the screen, but even some of the more intense hospital scenes are never graphic due to some carefully placed darkness – a testament to Cinematographer Raymond Stella, who cut his cinematic teeth running cameras for John Carpenter’s Halloween and The Fog. Stella uses light and shadow to the best moments of their form in the claustrophobic hospital scenes and adds an unquestionable amount of production value to an otherwise tight budget.
Included on the disc is a 40-minute documentary on the production – entitled Hospital from Hell – it includes interview footage with Altman, Hurst and Stella along with a few other key members of the crew. Noticeably absent, specifically since the crew has nothing but praise for her, is Christine Taylor. Taylor who was 5 months pregnant at the time of filming, was forced to make some concessions when it came to the grueling stunt work required for her character, but based on some behind the scenes footage it appears that she more than carried herself through the shoot. Her perspective on agreeing to star in such a rigorous film would have made for an interesting side bit on the shooting. It is also noted that she was very excited to be doing horror again, as she has always been a fan, that kind of kinship with the genre also might have added some spark to the audio commentary track from Altman and Hurst who gave a similar spiel on the House of the Dead 2 disc. The duo seem to delight in making the other laugh, and freely admit that the film was inspired by…drumroll please…Jacob’s Ladder – they might as well admit it, they weren’t fooling anyone anyway.
Overall, Room 6 suffers slightly from its mechanical nature, but the cast and crew really push to raise the genre up and make the film something more than the sum of its severed parts. What they managed in the end is an entertaining, if somewhat generic thrill ride.