Guy Maddin and Evan Johnson’s The Forbidden Room is a rich, opaque and mind-mulching masterpiece. Its exquisite swirling of surrealist imagery and majestic visuals make it more than apt for the assigned IMAX slot but cinema-goers seeking something a bit more conservative may be alienated by its retina-searing excess.

Delving recklessly into a drunk, baroque nightmare as though directed by an alien, TFR unravels as a David Lynch/ Monty Python melding or if Bunuél made Amazon Women on the Moon and amounts to a matchless, harried and exhilarating phenomenon that will linger in your memory whether you like it or not. Entwining stories within stories spun by characters within flashbacks unravel like a dream while the prominent strand features a submarine crew protecting some kind of confidential government jelly (don’t ask).

A tale of lumberjacks looking for a girl called Margot is then relayed by a mysterious woodsman: his story involves a tribe led by a bladder slapping alpha who subjects the lead to a series of challenges he must overcome to continue. Meanwhile a musical sequence featuring Udo Kier as a derriere addict then plays while poisonous leotard brandishing skeletons cushion plot strands featuring a squid theft interspersed with quotes from Milton and a creature called Aswang whose footsteps fade the closer it gets. A “Train psychiatrist” then makes an appearance along with the ghost of a man with a misplaced moustache (Kier again).

Subtitles and fonts coalesce with bleached tints to evoke century old cinema styles. There is great artistry in the editing that heals these devices, making them spasm opaque from the screen in weird visual seizures as celluloid bleeds and spits and characters fizzle in and out of focus then burn away into nothing.

The Forbidden Room is a gruelling, mad parody of film/ art interpretation that is almost impossible to critique. It’s like spending two hours going mad in Willy Wonka’s chocolate tunnel (don’t) and while there’s no way of knowing which direction you are going, the dangers remains evident. As the rowers who keep on rowing without showing any signs of slowing, the threat of incomprehensible monotony sets in (especially when you’re not quite sure of the running time) but thankfully never arises.

Viewers partial to the unusual will find much to admire and while its discombobulating dream-like assault may permanently furrow the brow of those seeking something linear, it will probably blow their mind anyway. Burning the boundaries between high art and old entertainment (reality doesn’t come into it), The Forbidden Room remains an astonishing work, a grand, bombastic salute to cinema and a grandiloquent phantasm worthy of the widest distribution possible and the measured opinion of all who dare to endure it.

The Forbidden Room
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Daniel Goodwin is a prevalent film writer for multiple websites including HeyUGuys, Scream Horror Magazine, Little White Lies, i-D and Dazed. After studying Film, Media and Cultural Studies at university and Creative Writing at the London School of Journalism, Daniel went on to work in TV production for Hat Trick Productions, So Television and The London Studios. He has also worked at the Home Office, in the private office of Hilary Benn MP and the Coroner's and Burials Department, as well as on the Movies on Pay TV market investigation for the Competition Commission.
the-forbidden-room-reviewA rich, opaque and mind-mulching masterpiece.