OCTOBER 7, 2008
Maybe I should make a subgenre for a group of strangers who wake up in a room, trying to figure out why they are there. Since the first two Saw films, there have been several, and while Breathing Room fares far better than some of the others I’ve seen recently (such as Steel Trap), it still suffers from the same problems that they all have, resulting in a film that’s fairly well made but ultimately pretty dull.
Gabriel Cowan and John Suits are the two guys behind this one (one or both of their names appear in just about every credit on this movie), and to their credit, they do make a few nice adjustments to the formula. One is that they double the usual amount of folks. It’s usually around 6 or 7, but there are FOURTEEN here (though two die before the film begins), which at least keeps the body count up. Someone dies every 5-10 minutes, a far better return than Trap offered. I also like the sort of Paycheck-y way that there are about a dozen random objects in the room (a pen, a bottle of vodka, a lighter, etc), which must be put together in order to find a way out. It would have been easy to go the Saw route and just have them torture/kill each other throughout the movie, but instead they go for the paranoia/”no one is safe” angle.
But that’s part of the problem. They want us to be held in suspense the whole time, but it’s obvious right off the bat that the bad guy is one of two particular folks. Again, the Saw films had such great twists, it’s almost a guarantee that anyone making a film in their wake will try to blow our minds with some shocking revelation, so you will automatically suspect the “least” likely characters, and Breathing Room is no exception. It's a "It only works if you've never seen another movie" movie.
Another issue is that the killer has a scene alone which makes no sense in retrospect. It’s one thing to try to throw the viewer off, but to have a scene that simply should not logically exist is unforgivable. It would be like having Verbal Kint go to the bathroom and worry that the guy in the next stall is Keyser Soze*. And since after the scene I still suspected that this person was the killer anyway, it didn’t even work as intended.
Unlike the other indies in this trio of Anchor Bay pickups (apparently they are taking over where Lionsgate left off), the acting here is actually pretty solid. Our lead is Ailsa Marshall, and she looks a bit like Naomi Watts, which is fine by me. And while you still get the usual archetypes (the complete jerk, the guy who rises to the leader role, the hysterical woman, etc), there’s no one you want to see killed right away.
Anyway, I hope a moratorium is placed on these types of movies for a few years. There’s not a lot you can do with the scenario anyway, and there are just too many. Only way to tell them apart is to explain the motive (i.e. “Saw II is the one where the cop set up everyone up, and Jigsaw knew this somehow.”), and this movie doesn’t even offer a reason for the killer’s game. It’s like the inverse of Five Across The Eyes: these guys got the technical/acting parts right, but their script wasn’t up to par. Oh well.
What say you?
*Does anyone mind that I am constantly spoiling the end of The Usual Suspects in my reviews?