Home Video Hovel: Room 237, by David Bax
Plenty has been written and said on this site about Rodney Ascher’s Room 237. In fact, Ascher has appeared twice on our podcast and Matt Warren called it one of the ten best films of last year. So I’m not going to waste time trying to convince you that Room 237 is a good movie. Hopefully, we’ve already done that. My job now is to let you know if it’s worth your while to purchase the Blu-ray. It most assuredly is.
Ascher’s film is the product of interviews with people who have obsessively studied Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining. In 30 years or so, I look forward to the documentary about people who have theories about Room 237. Given how impulsively rewatchable the film is, I can only imagine what people might find in it.
I use the word documentary hesitantly to describe this work. Yet the other term that has been a popular category – film essay – is equally insufficient. If I were in charge of filing all the world’s films by type (and, for the record, I really don’t want that job), the best genre in which to install Room 237 might be “mystery.”
Ascher’s subjects are all self-motivated investigators, unorthodox but driven Dale Coopers out to uncover a secret they know is lurking in the unopened room and under the floorboards of the Overlook hotel. That secret may be empirical, metaphysical or downright godly. It may be all of those and more. Whatever it is, Kubrick knew about it and placed it there for them to find. They know the butler did it; they just have to figure out how.
The point here is that reducing the film to an essay makes it sound dry, no matter how interesting. And this thing is definitely not dry. It contains exciting takes on the familiar genres that lead you to watch your favorite movies over and over again. Not only is it an engaging trip down the rabbit hole of effect and causation – real or imagined. It’s also consistently hilarious (without ever being mean) and frightening in a way that’s much more difficult to explain than to experience.
So, yes, you should definitely buy Room 237 on Blu-ray if you’re considering it. Not just because the director is such a great podcast guest. Not just because of the eye-catching and totally bitchin’ bright yellow packaging. Not just because of the commentary, the deleted scenes and the featurettes. Rather, you’re going to want to own it because you’re going to want to watch it. After all, you’ve got to get to the bottom of the clues Ascher has doubtless hidden throughout.