There is more mood than matter to be sampled in “The Disappointments Room,” a spooky psychological thriller — or, perhaps, a psychological thriller with spooks — that is initially intriguing but ultimately, unfortunately, lives down to its title. Director D.J. Caruso (“Disturbia,” “The Salton Sea”) and scriptwriter Wentworth Miller do a reasonably efficient job of setting the table for this drama about a troubled woman who unlocks (and unearths) dark secrets after moving into a secluded and long-abandoned country home. Somewhere around the two-thirds mark, however, the movie skids off the rails as the storyline becomes at once less mysterious and more illogical, raising the suspicion that, midway through the filming, everyone involved simply tossed aside the script and started making things up as they went along.
Even so, “The Disappointments Room” (which finally opened Friday without press previews after months of delays caused by Relativity Media’s financial crises) has a few things going for it. Cinematographer Rogier Stoffers does an impressive job of amping the tone of mounting dread as his camera glides predatorily throughout the old dark house where most of the narrative unfolds. Brief flickers of heat are tantalizingly generated during a flirtation scene that recalls the first-meeting banter between Fred MacMurray and Barbara Stanwyck in “Double Indemnity.”
Best of all, there is Kate Beckinsale, who gives the movie a good deal more than it ever gives her as Dana, an architect struggling to recover from the mental collapse she endured after the (maybe, maybe not) accidental death of her infant daughter.
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You might think the last thing anyone in Dana’s fragile emotional state should do is accept the daunting task of renovating the aforementioned country home, where she moves with her husband, David (Mel Raido), and their young son, Lucas (Duncan Joiner). But the move really wasn’t her idea — apparently, it was more or less foisted upon her by David, who believes his distressed wife needs a break from the stresses, and bad memories, associated with their life in Manhattan. Raido labors mightily to play David as an attentive and compassionate spouse, but his character’s behavior, here and elsewhere, distractingly suggests the mindset of a passive-aggressive control freak.
Still, except for when she’s trying way too hard in a rather unfortunate scene that calls for drunken ranting, Beckinsale is credible and compelling as Dana tries to make the best of a bad situation, then becomes increasingly frantic as that situation turns into something much worse. First off, Dana is badly rattled by fleeting visions of apparitions — including a fearsome man in black (Gerald McRaney), his large black dog, and a little girl who appears terrified by both — that may be paranoid hallucinations or paranormal activities. Her free-floating fears are stoked when she discovers a locked upstairs room that doesn’t appear in blueprints for the house.
But Dana doesn’t really begin to come apart at the seams until she’s informed that what she found is a “Disappointments Room” — the sort of chamber where wealthy folks used to imprison offspring “born with certain difficulties.” (Or, as Caruso slyly indicates with a clip from the 1943 film of “Jane Eyre,” a place where husbands could lock up their inconveniently crazy wives.)
For a respectable stretch of its running time, “The Disappointments Room” sustains interest by keeping the audience guessing as to whether guilt or ghosts (or both) may be triggering the frightening sights and sounds that bedevil Dana. And the mystery is enhanced when a hunky handyman (Lucas Till) is dropped into the mix. But even before Dana shows up plastered for a poorly timed dinner party, the movie devolves into a half-baked goulash of red herrings, horror-movie clichés, and dangling plot threads. Worse, there are hints of last-minute editing-room surgery: One character grimly examines newspaper clippings of local murders with allegedly supernatural links, but there’s absolutely no payoff for the portentous scene. Another character’s life-or-death status remains unclarified when the final credits roll, leaving it up to viewers to decide whether Dana imagined her discovery of a corpse. Of course, by that point, it’s difficult to imagine that anyone really would care.