How to best describe Guy Maddin and Evan Johnson’s The Forbidden Room? It’s a gorgeous, hilarious and unique piece of work. It could be described as anthology film, with a collection of stories (kind of) stitched together with dream logic. Constructed from a series of publicly filmed projects made in Paris and Montreal, it’s a bold and beautiful experiment that draws the viewer into a surreal landscape that’s really quite wonderful.
Beginning with a hysterically funny informercial about baths and bathing, the film quickly relocates to a submarine, lost at the bottom of the ocean with air running out. As the crew resorts to eating flapjacks to benefit from their air pockets, a lumberjack arrives and the tales begin.
The series of hyper-stylised vignettes that follows feature an incredible cast and a gleefully odd sense of humour, veering from subconscious examination, monster movies and total silliness. A hero attempts to infiltrate a band of woodland bandits through a series of improbably easy challenges, Matthieu Almaric goes to incredible lengths to conceal the fact that he forgot his wife’s birthday, a young woman violently confronts her inner child, and Udo Kier gets more and more lobotomies to try to stop staring at women’s rear ends.
These are just a few of the vignettes, all of which are tied together, in a way, while we occasionally return to the submarine crew, desperately gasping for air while trying to reach the long-absent captain at the front of the vessel.
None of the stories overstay their welcome, as that humour and invention ensures that it’s never anything less than an absolute joy. It’s worth noting the incredible cast too, with Charlotte Rampling, Maria De Madeiros and Caroline Dhavernas popping up for brief but striking appearances.
Maddin and Johnson’s work with cinematographers Benjamin Kasulke and Stéphanie Anne Weber Biron and editor John Gurdebeke ensures that The Forbidden Room earns must-see status purely from a visual standpoint. It’s gorgeous, beguiling and inventive.
At two hours long, there’s the risk that, if you’re not on board early on, you’re in for a long and irritating ride. We, however, found it absolutely magical. With murder, monsters, mayhem and moustaches, The Forbidden Room is hard to explain but impossible to forget. Seek this out.
The Forbidden Room is playing on 9 October at the BFI London Film Festival. Find more information here.