A Review Of The Immaculate Room starring Kate Bosworth

(from left) Emile Hirsch and Kate Bosworth in Mukunda Michael Dewil's The Immaculate Room.

(from left) Emile Hirsch and Kate Bosworth in Mukunda Michael Dewil’s The Immaculate Room.
Photo: Screen Media

The titular space of Mukunda Michael Dewil’s heady two-hander, The Immaculate Room, lives up to its name—aesthetically, at least. With only a slim bed and a similarly sparse bench as furnishings, the expansive room is a study in brutal minimalism. With no artwork and no windows (only hued lights that change at morning, noon and night), this sterile environment announces itself as the only thing it could ever be: a site for a social experiment. Dewil’s film stages and seemingly wants to comment on such a gamble (can a couple survive in the room alone for 50 consecutive days?), but it feels like an empty provocation, one that never quite manages to deliver on the nihilistic premise it wants to captured within its lily white walls.

The couple in question are Kate (Kate Bosworth) and Mikey (Emile Hirsch). They enter the room giddily. After all, if they succeed in spending 50 nights in this dystopian-looking space, they’ll earn $5 million. Simple, right? Sure, lights turn off automatically at 10pm and their meals consist of an odorless liquid delivered in a single carton. But, really, how hard could this “experiment” really be?

If your mind is already racing to imagine the way such joint solitary confinement would drive even the strongest of couples to the brink of insanity, you’re already two steps ahead of Dewil’s screenplay. Yes, for the first 24 or so days, Kate and Mikey are as well-behaved as two people trapped in a blank canvas can be. She meditates, he runs laps. She invokes affirmations in front of the bathroom mirror (“Today’s my day. Today I will show the world my worth”), he ponders what he’ll do with his half of the winnings (“I’m gonna smoke a fat blunt with Elon Musk”). In sum, they make do with what little they have. It’s only a matter of time until, by both happenstance (a bug is found in the middle of the room) and by design (a gun appears out of nowhere in the bathroom), that the couple is forced to grapple with what this experiment may truly be driving them towards.

As a concept, there’s an elegant simplicity in The Immaculate Room. The kind that lends itself to the sort of philosophical discussions Kate and Mikey soon find themselves having—about compassion, artistic integrity, trust, grief, privilege, you name it. Surrounded by nothingness, the two are slowly chiseled away into their most elemental selves, for better and for worse. And that’s before the room prods them further with missives from family members, and goads them with “treats” that eat into their winnings. Their self-control is challenged at every turn.

The room and its “contest” has been designed, as Mikey rather helpfully explains to us (well, to Kate), by a renowned eccentric, a very wealthy social scientist whose reputation rests on having successfully driven a Midwestern family to ruin after making them famous with the help of the many (many!) millions of dollars he has at his disposal. A story immortalized by a documentary Mikey can’t believe Kate doesn’t know. “The Immaculate Room” exercise seems right in line with such concerns—only what such a researcher would be learning from Kate and Mikey’s slow descent into madness remains unclear. Indeed, because the film remains focused on Kate and Mikey, we don’t get much insight into the machinations behind the person running the show, only its effects.

The problem is the couple’s interactions (especially as they’re intercut with several montages that skip through much of their time together) aren’t particularly grounded in any kind of lived-in chemistry. By the time the credits roll and an all-too blunt coda closes out Mikey and Kate’s story, we’re nowhere closer to knowing who they were as individuals, let alone as a couple. That is no fault of the actors; Bosworth and Hirsch do plenty with what they’re given. The two clearly relish the opportunity to dive headfirst into the increasingly unnerving headspace of this seemingly mismatched couple. And Dewil, to his credit, keeps the film from ever feeling stagey or claustrophobic by constantly finding new ways to light and frame his actors even within what’s ostensibly a white box of a set.

The Immaculate Room Trailer #1 (2022)

The problem is Dewil doesn’t give them (or the audience) enough to hang on to. Kate and Mikey’s backstories are necessarily hazily sketched and their dynamic ahead of their confinement is similarly left unexplored. That means their breakdowns as they begin to go stir crazy feel rather arbitrary. Instead of illuminating something about them—or the human experience, even—they come off as acting exercises. Watching Hirsch, for instance, turn a line like “100% Cotton. Cold wash. Do not bleach. Made in Bangladesh.” into a Shakespearean-type monologue is plenty fun, yes. But it doesn’t illustrate anything about this vegan artist.

Ultimately, what prevents The Immaculate Room from truly exploring its provocative premise to meaningful effect is its lack of razor-sharp focus. Is this a lockdown fable about the need for community and connection? A philosophical musing on the perils and promises of long-term intimacy? An examination of our inability to live with just our thoughts? A scathing satire about the lengths folks will go to earn untold millions?

Despite its thrilling central performances and its sleek production design, The Immaculate Room has more ideas than it can hold together, and emerges, quite ironically it must be said, as quite a muddled mess.


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