Review: Human Connection, Communication and Limits Put to the Test in The Immaculate Room

Yet another clean, economic example of a pandemic-made film that isn’t about the pandemic and has higher aspirations than its simple story may let on. Actually, the latest from writer/director Mukunda Michael Dewil (Vehicle 19) does deal with how extreme isolation can lead to mental instability, so maybe it is about the pandemic after all. The Immaculate Room focuses almost exclusively on Mike (Emile Hirsch) and Kate (Kate Bosworth), a young, seemingly perfect couple who join what is either a psychological experiment or a high-stakes game show in which they are locked inside a plain white room with only a bed, a bathroom and no other source of diversion, outside communication, or human contact. They must stay there for 50 days, and if they make it to the end, they get $5 million. If one of them decides to leave and the other stays, the one who stays only gets $1 million, so surviving as a unit benefits both people.

It may sound boring, but 50 days doesn’t seem so long, does it? The only voice they hear is an automated one informing them of what time of day it is, just before it turns off the lights at night or turns them on in the morning. If they risk breaking the rules of the experiment, the voice may remind them they can’t do something, but other than that, the only outside distractions come in the form of “treats,” which cost money. Each person gets two treats and no one knows what said treat will be until they request one. They seemed designed to potentially cause a rift, like they’re being tested. Mike gets a crayon, which he loves because he’s something of an artist and he draws landscapes and portraits all over the walls. But his second treat is a person, a naked one actually (Ashley Greene Khoury), who seems a bit too flirty and eager to please with both of them. This woman’s presence causes more issues for Kate than Mike, as her abandonment paranoia begins to rise to the surface.

Outside of the treats, other objects sometimes show up in the room, like a gun. They immediately toss it under the bed, but you know what they say about introducing a gun in the first act of a play. Most of what happens during The Immaculate Room is conversation, and the film could have very easily been adapted into a play and been just as effective. I haven’t seen Bosworth in a film in some time, and she plays Kate as the more stable and determined of the two. If either or both of them make it through all 50 days, it will clearly be because of her. 

At one point in the film, each of them receives a video message from a loved one. Mike hears from his sister, which stirs up feelings of failure involving his younger brother who died when they were kids. But Kate’s message is from her estranged father (M. Emmet Walsh), who has had a drinking problem her entire life and is living in a rehab center. She’s traumatized so thoroughly by the message that she curls up in bed and doesn’t speak (that’s one way to kill a few days). Each of them alternates between thinking they should be done with this or being the stable one while the other slowly melts down. The movie is a terrific acting exercise, and it has a few themes that feel relevant to recent times without beating us over the head with Messages. The Immaculate Room isn’t trying to deliver a punch; it’s more letting us know that human beings weren’t meant to live in isolation for so long. If they do, it’s very likely personal demons will emerge, and even the strongest couple with no underlying issues will buckle under such pressure. Not that we need that reminder, but it’s nice to know we aren’t entirely alone in crisis.

The film is now playing in theaters and On Demand.

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Steve Prokopy
Steve Prokopy

Steve Prokopy is chief film critic for the Chicago-based arts outlet
Third Coast Review. For nearly 20 years, he was the Chicago editor for
Ain’t It Cool News, where he contributed film reviews and
filmmaker/actor interviews under the name “Capone.” Currently, he’s a
frequent contributor at /Film (SlashFilm.com) and Backstory Magazine.
He is also the public relations director for Chicago's independently
owned Music Box Theatre, and holds the position of Vice President for
the Chicago Film Critics Association. In addition, he is a programmer
for the Chicago Critics Film Festival, which has been one of the
city's most anticipated festivals since 2013.

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