Sense of Wonder: Commenting on Room 205's Commentary

A while back I mentioned that I was providing an audio commentary for the U.S. DVD release of ROOM 2O5, the Danish horror film I enjoyed at Screamfest 2007. Well, the disc is out, but of course I haven’t reviewed it because my objectivity is seriously compromised. While contemplating other writers to whom the job could be offered (ideally, someone independent of CFQ, who would not be afraid to say an unkind word), I came upon Brian Collins’ mixed but largely negative review at Horror Movie a Day. Collins is entitled to his opinion of the film, but I must object to his misleading characterization of the audio commentary:

The DVD has a commentary (in which director Martin Barnewitz also claims it’s a slasher movie) and a making of, neither are essential but props to devoting a lengthy section of the making of to the sound design, which is one of the movie’s strong points. The commentary also has a film critic along for the ride, and it’s kind of ironic that they spend so much time dissecting (and dismissing) slasher movies that are far superior to this one, and talking about what makes an effective horror movie, when Barnewitz failed to do so. Oh well, at least one of them points out that the back story is the same as (the superior) Shutter, so I don’t have to.

This gives the impression that Barnewitz and I spent the entire commentary talking about how bad slasher movies are and how good ROOM 205 is. In truth, I was the one doing the dissecting and dismissing, not Martin Barnewitz, and my focus was not on slahser films but on distinguishing between the Barnewitz’s European approach and that of low-budget American horror movies, which tend to get the body count started as soon as possible.
Barnewitz’s film, on the other hand, is working in a tradition with roots in films like ROSEMARY’S BABY (an American production but scripted and directed by Polish auteur Roman Polanski), which unfold their story gradually, building suspense before the horror emerges. In the commentary, I note that this is a gambit that can pay off in the long run, if the audience has the patience to wait out the slow, early passages; Barnewitz counters by saying that he probably should have inserted a few more scares up front.
In other words, far from being ignorantly oblivious to the slow pace (one of Collins chief objections to the film), we were actively discussing it, and the filmmaker himself considered it a problem that he regreted. Collins should give us credit for this instead of painting us as totally clueless.
One other point: Collins derides us for spending too much time “talking about what makes an effective horror movie, when Barnewitz failed to do so.” Yet here is Collins own assessment of the film:

[…] it’s not awful; it’s competently made and the actors are good. And once it finally gets going, it’s kind of exciting, and the deaths are surprisingly cool when they actually occur. To be fair, the slow pace would actually be a benefit if the story was a bit more original or interesting, so it’s nice to see that they are at least TRYING to develop character rather than just present you with wall to wall kills like a latter day F13 movie. Also, I’m pretty sure that this is the first teen horror movie in which our Final Girl snorts cocaine, so at least they aren’t slaves to the “rules”.

Despite his overall disappointment, Collins finds some words of praise for ROOM 205. Why, then, does he find it “ironic” that the audio commentary addresses those merits? I suspect the problem here is that Collins (based on a misleading quote on the box cover) was expecting a fast-paced slasher movie. When he saw, instead, a deliberately paced ghost story, his thwarted expectations perhaps bled over into his assesment of the film and the audio commentary.
I hope I’m not being overly sensitive. I just don’t want someone reading the review to get an inaccurate impression of the audio commentary, so I am trying to set the record straight.
UPDATE: Links have been added, and text has been edited and expanded for clarity.

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