The Forbidden Room

A submarine crew, a feared pack of forest bandits, a famous surgeon, and a battalion of child soldiers all get more than they bargained for as they wend their way toward progressive ideas on life and love.


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  • ★★★★½ review by Eli Hayes on Letterboxd

    Has Guy Maddin been taking absurdist comedy lessons from Tim Heidecker, Eric Wareheim and their Adult Swim team for the last four years, or..?

    A brilliant, hilarious and utterly batshit-yet-respectful-and-affectionate parody of a variety of genres/subgenres & cinematic eras that Maddin so obviously adores. Here, you can feel, very deeply, his love of film.

  • ★★★★½ review by davidehrlich on Letterboxd

    Welcome to The Forbidden Room, an exhilarating slipstream of two-strip technicolor havoc that feels like an exquisite corpse assembled from every leftover idea that filmmaker Guy Maddin has ever had. A dense quilt of nested scenes that were allegedly pulled from the cinema’s great abandoned films, The Forbidden Room never proves that Maddin is reanimating “real” lost projects, but how real can a film be if it was never shot?


    (i already regret not going with 5... we don't do 1/2 stars)

  • ★★★★ review by SilentDawn on Letterboxd


    "Be careful about passing gas when you're in the bathtub. It just doesn't go away!"

    Guy Maddin's Journey to the Center of the Cinema. Volcanoes and wolves and flames and clouds woven through a fossilized digital presentation of a celluloid dreamscape. Various scenarios lead to rituals, tangents, expressions, and grand displays of feeling. Watching this is like discovering a nesting doll in the middle of a rabbit hole which happens to all be occuring in a dream that you're having while you're passed out on the floor of a local Taco Bell. Exquisite yet exhausting cinema that reaches as far down as it possibly can, only to burst into thousands of crumbling pieces as its cinematic submarine rises to the surface. Flapjacks!

  • ★★★★ review by ScreeningNotes on Letterboxd

    "Dream the molten dream of justice!"

    Psychedelic nonsense at least, psychological artistry at best. By turns unsettling and hilarious, but always thoroughly captivating and above all intimately personal and singular.

    A comic nightmare had by the mustache of a dead father on his return back from his happier afterlife to bid his third final farewell. Shoot your inner child and re-break your bones to make yourself new again. Wear your dead father's mustache because it makes your mother happy.

    Structured like a nesting doll, but each layer is the same size and they don't fit together except by occupying the exact same time-space coordinates. A dream within a story within a flashback within an anecdote within some utter pretentious garbage made up by the worst kind of downright no-good squid-thief bath-taker.

    Unlike anything I've ever seen, with the closest second being Soderbergh's Schizopolis crossed with The Strange Color of Your Body's Tears. Kind of like a feature-length film version of the opening credits to Enter the Void, but somehow even better than I could have ever hoped.

    2015 Ranked: United States | Global

    What Even Happened?

  • ★★★★½ review by Michael Sicinski on Letterboxd


    My capsule review from my TIFF Wavelengths coverage for MUBI:

    If The Forbidden Room represents Maddin’s most substantial triumph since The Heart of the World, this could be because the new film is both an inversion and an elaboration on the earlier film’s methods. Where Maddin took a single story (an vaguely Soviet apocalyptic sci-fi lark crisscrossed with a fraternal love triangle) in Heart and condensed it through split-second montage, propulsive music, and exhortative title cards, The Forbidden Room ambles and digresses. Where Godard told us that his Weekend (1968) was “a film adrift in the cosmos,” The Forbidden Room is a film lost inside itself, a mise-en-abyme nightmare of discursive misdirection. Whereas earlier Maddin films have been perhaps a bit too besotted with the syntax of early silent cinema, here we are lodged inside the labyrinthine problematics of folklore and exaggeration, a Winchester Mystery House of storytelling in which windows can overlook vertiginous hallways and staircases may lead nowhere.

    The Forbidden Room does not precisely mirror this architecture. Not all of its narrative byways are “dead ends,” although a few of them (the “volcano of justice,” or really the entire tale of the saplingjack vs. the Red Wolves) remain doggedly unresolved. But there is much more going on with the film’s overall armature than simply a nesting “Dutch doll” recursivity or a follow-the-link hypertext model. The titular room, after all, is onboard a submarine, and inasmuch as there is primary story or “throughline” to this unruly work, it pertains to this submerged craft and the four doomed seamen stranded within it. They are running out of oxygen, and their deadly payload (“explosive jelly”) will detonate should they attempt to rise to the surface. So as they bicker, panic, and drift into delirium, they move through the sub in search of the missing captain, his quarters being both off-limits and, bizarrely, near impossible to find.

    Although this film inevitably calls to mind the meta-fictional orchestrations of Borges or Calvino, such a comparison severely misrepresents the utter anarchy of Maddin’s film. (Much of this due to the painterly style of Room, no doubt largely attributable to visual-effects whiz Johnson. This deepens Maddin’s customary chiaroscuro, providing an almost Turneresque quality.) Like the men in the submarine, The Forbidden Room has an overall mood of anxiety and despair, in the sense that we are asked to grapple with its heady delirium of character trajectories and stunted arcs, all the while searching in vain for some absent center, the organizing “captain” who is supposed to pull it all together. In its endless ruptures and disconnections, The Forbidden Room brings us up short, placing us back in that capsule where the image is a form of confinement, a shortness of breath.

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