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A masterclass in storytelling, the utterly engaging “The Oak Room” features stellar performances and writing reminiscent of the genre’s best.

Let’s sit down, you and I, as I spin a yarn about the Canadian thriller The Oak Room from director Cody Calahan.

It was a dark and snowy night. A dimly lit bar and two men face each other in a tense showdown as the clock ticks toward midnight. One of the men is facing an uncertain fate at midnight, the other is assured of his place in events.

Bar owner Paul (Peter Outerbridge) is closing up for the evening when, out of the storm, comes a visitor looking for warmth from the storm and a drink. Steve (RJ Mitte) has, after a long time away, finally come home.

Paul is not happy to see Steve, the son of his best friend.

Among other charges laid against the wayward son, Paul is angry Steve missed his father’s funeral. Paul lays out a characterization of Steve as a college drop-out, a son who never appreciated all his father did for him, and a man who takes advantage of people. Steve also owes money to the wrong kind of people.

Paul has made it a point to reach out to the person that Steve owes money to, and this man will arrive at the bar by midnight. Paul advises that it would be best if Steve was gone by then if he can’t pay his debt.

But Steve has other plans. He offers something to Paul that is more valuable than money — a story. The story is about a bar called The Oak Room, where he witnessed something that Paul needs to hear about.

The script, written by and based on a play by Peter Genoway, is a tightly wound thriller built around the telling of Steve’s story.

The Oak Room switches effortlessly from Paul and Steve, to the story of The Oak Room bar, to memories of past discussion between Paul and Steve’s father.

Cody Calahan and Peter Genoway have fashioned a masterful exploration of the power of stories in a nearly Stephen King fashion. The Oak Room, like the best of King’s stories, is so engrossing you don’t notice you have been drawn into the story through dialogue. And you don’t quite appreciate until the end just how masterfully that dialogue reveals what’s really happening in Paul’s bar through the not-so-simple act of telling a story.

The Oak Room will draw you in, entertain, and horrify you.

A claustrophobic setting, a clicking clock, rising tensions, and phenomenal performances by Peter Outerbridge and RJ Mitte make The Oak Room a must-see movie from the Fantasia International Film Festival.

Overall Rating (Out of 5 Butterflies): 4

Written by Patrick Krause

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