Movies & TV / Reviews

The Lower Rooms Review

March 30, 2018 | Posted by Bryan Kristopowitz
The Lower Rooms
The 411 Rating
Community Grade
Your Grade
The Lower Rooms Review  

The Lower Rooms Review

Lobsang Tenzin– Tenzin
Jena Sancartier– Rosie
Kelly Lambert– Benny
Kelly Tallent– Madeline
Ty McCalister– Helmet

Directed by Barry Hunt and Nathan Wilson

Distributed by Sowelu Dramatic and The Narrative

Not Rated
Runtime– 96 minutes

Watch it here

The Lower Rooms_8_16

The Lower Rooms, directed by Barry Hunt and Nathan Wilson, is a bizarre drama about two people who, at first, don’t seem to have much in common. And after about half-way, it seems like the only thing they could possibly have in common is that they live in the same house. But then, after that halfway mark, when the movie starts to get even weirder, you see just how these two people have more in common that anyone could have possibly thought. I know I didn’t think the movie would turn out the way it did. And while I’m not entirely sure I completely understand the movie, it’s still a fascinating piece of cinema.

The movie stars Lobsang Tenzin as Tenzin, a Tibetan refugee who comes to Portland, Oregon to live and seek rehabilitation from a harrowing experience in his homeland. He’s set to live with Madeline (Kelly Tallent), a woman who works at the rehab clinic. Tenzin seems to have some sort of relationship with Madeline. It might be romantic, but it’s not explicitly made clear that that’s what’s going on with them. That’s what I think is happening with them, anyway. Madeline has a teen daughter named Rosie (Jena Sancartier) who isn’t too keen on sharing their home with Tenzin. She would much rather live alone with her mother as that living arrangement is much more conducive to her hanging out/screwing around with her boyfriend Benny (Kelly Lambert).

The first time Tenzin meets Rosie and Benny together is super awkward. Rosie immediately wants to engage in a confrontation with Tenzin, while Tenzin has no interest in hostility with anyone. He doesn’t approve of Rosie’s relationship with Benny, but he isn’t about to start something with her. He has his own stuff to deal with.

The tension between Rosie and Tenzin grows as the days go on. Rosie starts to openly wonder what Tenzin’s deal is, why he’s living with her mother, why he’s in America. Tenzin doesn’t want to reveal all that much to Rosie, at least at first, but she continues to persist. He eventually agrees to share his life story with her, and it’s at that point that the movie starts to get weird.

How weird? It’s difficult to explain without actually seeing the movie. There are scenes underground that seem to be both a flashback to Tenzin’s past and a thing that Tenzin allows Rosie and Benny to do to him in the here and now. It’s all very unsettling and bizarre. Just what the hell happened to Tenzin back home? It wasn’t pleasant.

After that, we meet Benny’s friend Helmet (Ty McCalister), a shifty man on a motorcycle who seems to control Benny on some level. Helmet keeps reminding Benny that they (meaning Helmet and Benny) need Rosie in order to fulfill a pledge or promise or some damn thing. And what they need Rosie for is something terrible and, quite possibly, something that she won’t be able to come back from.

It sure seems like, upon reflection, that Tenzin trying to explain what he went through before coming to America is his way of preventing Rosie from going through the same sort of thing via Benny and Helmet. It isn’t the exact same thing, as what Tenzin went through back home was government sanctioned and part of a large culture, but the end result is possibly the same. If you don’t escape the overwhelming forces of personal destruction you will be consumed by them and cease to be the person you were, are, or could be in the future. But in order to be able to escape you need to be able to see that you need to escape in the first place.

Now, that’s what I think is what’s going on with The Lower Rooms. There’s a real possibility, though, that I’m dead fucking wrong and I completely missed the point of the movie. Normally, that possibility would annoy me. The Lower Rooms doesn’t annoy me, though. It makes me want to watch it again, to see if I can pick up on something that I may have missed. I’m sure I must have missed something. But what?

The movie is beautiful to look at. It appears to be a generally small production as it takes place in a few small, cramped locations. It doesn’t come off as a play, but you could see it being staged as one at some point if someone wanted to do that. When the movie opens itself up visually, there are some beautiful shots of random streets and dense forests that look like tropical rain forests surrounded by a sinister grayness. First time cinematographer Tyler Warren did an amazing job.

Lobsang Tenzin does a great job as Tenzin. He projects a humanity and natural charisma that makes you instinctually want to watch him and follow his every move. Some of his line readings are stiff, but that’s likely all part of his ongoing healing process. He’s trying to deal with what happened to him every single day, and there’s a chance that he might be winning. There’s a sadness in his eyes, though, that lets you know that he still has quite a bit left to do in terms of personal rehabilitation.

Jena Sancartier gives a fascinating performance as Rosie. When we first meet her she seems like a typical smart ass teenager who thinks she knows everything about the world and life in general. Her antagonistic relationship with her mother Madeline comes off as the kind of thing we’ve seen a million times in movies and on television. And what’s the deal with all of the singing in front of her computer? Her inquisitiveness, though, is what allows her to eventually fight back against Benny’s repugnant advances later in the movie. Will it be enough, though? Does she grasp what’s at stake for herself, in the big scheme of things?

And Kelly Lambert is terrifying as Benny, especially when you realize that he isn’t in love with Rosie, at least not in the way you think he should be. There’s something else going on with him, and it’s something that he may not be able to come back from. His final scenes are truly puzzling because, Jesus, why did he make the choices he made? He couldn’t see it turning out badly?

The Lower Rooms isn’t for everyone. Some people are going to be annoyed at how it has no problem being weird. If you’re an adventurous movie watcher, though, The Lower Rooms is something you should pursue and experience. It’s a movie that will make you think and question what you’re watching. It will also make you want to watch it again, just to see if there’s anything you missed.

Endlessly fascinating. A true must see.

See The Lower Rooms. See it, see it, see it.

So what do we have here?

Dead bodies: Possibly one, off screen,

Explosions: None.

Nudity?: None.

Doobage: Public transportation, listening to music, pill taking, pillow throwing, dinner making, torture talk, a man watching a woman change her clothes, more torture talk, a man who seems to sleep while holding his pants like a stuffed animal, a necklace of some sort, off screen stealing, newspaper reading, a vision (maybe), a wall clock that moves really fast, cooking stuff on a stove, an awkward lack of clothes, living room dancing, some bullshit about a blue dress, pipe smoking, onion cutting, red pepper cutting, chair bondage, more pipe smoking, more newspaper reading, underground weirdness, people talking about rape (maybe), going to the library, a series of potentially disturbing photographs, solo motorcycle ride, and camera breaking,

Kim Richards?: Attempted. Maybe.

Gratuitous: Salad, talk of having to eat maggot filled meat and then eating barf, the public library, people drinking wine on the deck, people eating on the couch while lying down, newspaper reading, talk about people believing in the number three, a weird wooden mask on the wall, almond milk, reading about Buddhism, cherry spitting, flute playing, and someone wearing a “Velvet Underground” T-shirt.

Best lines: “Do you feel misunderstood?,” “We’re having a simple dinner tonight, I’m afraid. Those are the best kinds,” “How old are you, Rosie?,” “Are you a clock? No, I’m a girl,” “What is wrong with the truth?,” “You look beautiful, Like a woman,” “Is it bullshit, Benny? Fuck you,” “Rosie, the girl was fat,” “You never told me you stole stuff, Benny,” “Mom gave you the key?,” “You don’t belong here. You don’t belong anywhere,” “I want to sing. I want to sing!,” “Tenzin, tell me a story,” “What can I say, green is green and blue is blue,” “Benny, how did you get that box?,” “Come on, you have to show me, I need to know,” “What makes you think I can do that?,” “That’s the problem with you people. You always ask for it, and then complain when you get it,” “Don’t put, Tenzin, I’m doing this for you,” “Benny, who is that?,” “You really fucked things up for me!,” “It is determined that you have to be punished,” “We’re going to fuck you,” “You’re hanging with the wrong crowd, Benny,” “Prove to me that you have soul, Rosie,” “You got anything to eat? Are you hungry?,” “So what do you do all day? Things,” “Did you tie her up?,” “I want to give you a ride on my bike,” “You’re not telling me anything,” and “My name is Tenzin.”

The final score: review Amazing
The 411
The Lower Rooms is a weird yet fascinating piece of cinema. I’m not entirely sure I understand what it’s about, but then that just means I have to watch it again. And that’s what The Lower Rooms does. It makes you want to watch and question and think. It isn’t going to be for everyone, but if you’re an adventurous movie watcher, The Lower Rooms is something you need to experience. Seek it out and check it out.