The Immaculate Room jumps straight into its premise, with Mikey (Emile Hirsch) and Kate (Kate Bosworth) entering the titular immaculate room. The couple has agreed to a psychological experiment where they will compete for five million dollars if they can last 50 days in the large, sleek room in complete isolation, with access to a bathroom and a bed. Upon entry, they press a button on the wall, triggering an automated voice to greet them by name, start the 50-day timer, and remind them of the rules. If one leaves before their time is up, the prize money goes down to one million dollars.
Writer/director Mukunda Michael Dewil says our lives are filled with distraction. “Glued to our phones, or stressing over money, or whatever it is — those distractions are stopping us from truly connecting with who we are, and they are distracting us from dealing with our stuff.” This is the premise behind The Immaculate Room. “If you take away the distractions, you have to face things, hidden things — and that’s when it gets interesting.”
It doesn’t take long for Mikey to fixate on the clock for something to do. “Don’t stare at the clock,” Kate warns, but it’s too late. He says he thinks the seconds are longer than standard seconds, and sometimes they seem to go backwards. What if they’re kept there for 100 days? How would they know? It’s only day two at this point. Mikey is struggling more than Kate. He’s an artistic, creative, and fluid personality, whereas Kate has a typical Type A personality. She’s more structured and controlled, sticking to a daily routine as much as possible. Beginning with a 7 am wake-up call, she heads to the bathroom and repeats the same affirmations each morning before meditating. Bosworth says, “you really see those differences [between the characters], and the challenges within those differences play out.”
There’s a day when the couple wakes up to a beetle on the floor. Mikey is obsessed with looking after it, but Kate is dismissive because it’s just a bug. Who cares? She wants to get rid of it. “It is a living being!” Mikey protests. The pair argue about it, which reveals something more profound: Mikey is vegan and doesn’t like that Kate isn’t, so Kate attacks his veganism in return. Of course, Professor Voyen, the off-screen character who created the experiment, placed the bug to cause conflict because he knows these things. Such little disagreements are about more significant conflicts, which the film highlights well.
The Immaculate Room explores what happens when people are forced to confront the stuff they’ve pushed down deep. Kate has an estranged father she hasn’t seen in 20 years, and Mikey blames himself for a family member’s death. Hirsch says about their characters, “Both of these characters don’t want to address the underlying problems that affect how they treat the other. And so, by being caught in this bubble, they can’t hide their issues any longer.” As the pair battle inner demons, the film also asks the age-old question: does money buy happiness?
In one setting, there are many different visuals created with blocking, lighting, and camera movement that Rasa Partin, director of photography, says was used to track “the internal emotional state of the characters.” Dweil explains, “We started off with locked frames, and as the movie got progressively more crazy, we ended up with the handheld madness at the end. It mirrors what’s happening with the characters.” They come in thinking they’re in control of their situation, but things start to fall apart and get more frantic — especially as the expansive room becomes a character.
The story gets interesting when the room tries to incite conflict and cause drama. There was the bug, but later, Kate and Mikey find a gun in the bathroom. The rest comes from something they trigger — they are allowed two treats each during their stay in the immaculate room, but it will cost them $100,000 per treat. The first treat offers Mikey a much-needed distraction that allows him to tap into his creativity. The second is the addition of Simone (Ashley Greene), who arrives naked to stir up the plot. All actors give strong performances, but Hirsch steals the show throughout. The film is described as a psychological drama and thriller, but it doesn’t go as hard as you may hope. It’s much more tame and subtle than it could’ve been, but it still has intriguing plot devices to get us thinking. It unfolds rather slowly but is mostly well-paced and makes for average viewing that is better viewed with a fun co-watcher.
Producer Joel David Moore says the film was one of the first to shoot under Los Angeles’s COVID protocols, which added another layer of meaning to the movie for the cast and crew. He said the pandemic has allowed people to have a “new understanding of the realities of confinement and the unexpected places your psyche goes to.” He adds that the room “unrelentingly reveals one’s true self.” Whether it’s due to our shared experience of the pandemic or not, many will be able to relate to the film’s concept, for better or worse.
While taking a breather to check in with ourselves can be healthy, it’s not natural to do nothing for so long in a white room with little distraction from your mind. How loud is all the deep, dark stuff we’ve pushed down able to get, and what effect will that have on us and those around us? Greene says, “We’re so used to outside stimulation and vibrancy and colour that this stark white room does force you to go inside your head and thoughts and… no, I would not survive 50 days in this room. No way.” Would you?
The Immaculate Room will be in cinemas and on-demand starting August 19
by Toni Stanger