Maddie Usher (Ramlah Frediani) is the single mother of Jonah (Charlie Koudsi), a mute autistic boy who can only communicate through imagery. In an effort to change their quality of life, Maddie purchases an old house in the quiet suburbs. Upon moving into the empty Dutch colonial, Jonah's demeanour completely changes. The young boy's behaviour becomes violent and his savant-like skills at drawing reveal a preoccupation with a terrifying form. Jonah's doctor insists it is simply the stress of moving into a new house yet this does little to ease Maddie's worries. Soon Maddie realizes the problem lay not within Jonah, but within the house itself.
Nice film with an annoying heroine ...
- Empty Rooms review by NP
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You rated this film: 3
Maddie has adopted a child in the hope of saving her marriage. Sadly, the marriage is doomed and the child is diagnosed as being autistic. However, Maddie is clearly not short of money because she buys a beautiful, spacious house in what the state agent describes as a ‘great district’. Never trust this particular estate agent.
Maddie is character intensely played by Ramlah Yavar - on one hand, you sympathise for her and admire her patience as her young son grows increasingly out of control. On the other, your sympathies evaporate because although her son’s relentless bad behaviour is patience-stretching, Maddie’s endless hippy ethics and gooey-eyed smiling demeanour go beyond irritating and actually become quite scary. With her son (Jonah) making it abundantly clear he abhors the new house and finds it unbearable, she enlists the help of her even more hippy sister Amber, who cannot wait to come and ‘feng shui’ the place. Amber’s smile is so constant, wide and patronising, it soon becomes clear the three leads in this film are hugely irritating and difficult to care about. There answer to most problems is for the sisters to place their grins inches away from whomever they are talking to and look searchingly, adoringly into their eyes.
This is a shame, because it spoils a film that is very evocatively shot and dreamily directed, and contains one or two disturbing moments that you don’t expect. The huge, naked man who turns up in Jonah’s drawings, and then in actuality is alarming, and we’re not sure if he is real or a ghost. At one point, he appears to attempt to rape Maddie, so he must be real to some extent.
Likewise, the toothless woman who appears, screaming for her son, is quite alarming.
The film’s ending doesn’t go out of it’s way to answer many of these plot points - as is often the case, events are caught in a kind of loop, which doesn’t promise to show signs of ending any time soon.
So, this is a mixed bag. On one hand, it is good that something different is being attempted for a familiar genre of film. On the other, the intensity of the two main leads tend to alienate the viewer. Equally, and this is a point not unique to Empty Rooms, but with so many clear signs that the house is not a pleasant place to stay - naked men appearing, warnings from local vagrants, harrassment - why doesn't Maddie just get somewhere else to live? It would have saved ninety minutes worth of heartache!