Fermat's Room DVD

Friday, 21 August 2009 10:42

“Think inside the box” is the snappy tagline for Spanish thriller “Fermat’s Room”, and it is an excellent indication of the smartness and simplicity of the movie itself. Four apparently unlinked mathematicians receive unexpected invites from the mysterious “Fermat” to a “meeting of minds”.

Admittance is only accepted, however, if they can individually solve a complex logic puzzle. Once they have cracked it, they are each given instructions to travel to a remote and otherwise deserted beach. How do they get from the beach to the actual venue? Well, that in itself is a conundrum, and once they arrive at their final destination - a seemingly run-down grain store - both our protagonists and the audience have accumulated a lot of questions and scant answers.

Fermat's Room on DVDAnd so it goes on. Inside the grain store they find an anachronistic and plush sitting room. Without much ado, our characters find themselves locked inside the room, and pressed for answers to cryptic logic puzzles by way of an electronic PDA device. Each puzzle has a set deadline; if they answer correctly within that limit, nothing happens. If they exceed the allowance or get the answer wrong, the walls of the room start to advance inwards, millimetre by millimetre, until the correct answer is given.

Whilst they ponder over these mini-challenges, our characters consider the wider questions: “Why are we here?”, “Do we have anything in common?”, and most importantly, “How are we going to escape from this extremely perilous situation?”.

Fans of the “Cube” trilogy, “Saw” and even the classic Caine/Olivier two-hander “Sleuth” will find much that is familiar in this movie, and yet the two young directors, Luis Piedrahita and Rodrigo Sopeña still manage to craft a piece that is exciting, thought-provoking and atmospheric.

The concept of very slowly moving the walls inwards maintains a predominantly background but unforgettable sense of danger. It is far less imminent and sudden than the perils featured in the aforementioned “Cube”, and gives the film some much-appreciated time to breathe and carefully ratchet-up the tension. The PDA challenges come thick and fast early on, then temporarily go on hiatus to allow plot and character developments to come to the foreground.

Because the majority of the film is shot inside a single room, a fair slice of time is given up to the characters and their interaction with each other and the room itself. The four main figures are given aliases by “Fermat”: “Hilbert”, played by Lluís Homar, “Galios” by Alejo Sauras, “Oliva” by Elena Ballesteros and “Pascal” by Santi Millán. The actors work well together and hit the right emotional notes as the story unfolds and their predicament worsens.

As the audience suspects, there is much more to these people than initially meets the eye, and none of them is quite as angelic and innocent as they pretend. As one of the actors comments in the DVD’s “Making of”, the room itself is a prominent character in its own right. Initially it is warm and welcoming, but as the walls press in, and the fixtures and fittings start to buckle and shatter, the environment becomes more and more claustrophobic and threatening. Splinters of wood and shards of glass cover the floor. At the same time, the room holds the keys to answering the puzzles, either by chance events, by the participants manipulating its contents to help work the problems out, or more literally within the copious literary volumes adorning the shelves.

“Fermat’s Room” is a neat and unpretentious little film, and consequently comes heartily recommended. If I had to find any negative points (and I am struggling to), they would be that the picture quality is quite grainy, and that there is a temptation to start thinking about the logic puzzles instead of concentrating on the subtitles, thereby potentially missing an important line of dialog!

The DVD is accompanied by a brief but interesting “Making of”, some deleted/extended scenes with commentary by the directors, a couple of special effects “before and after” clips, outtakes and rehearsal footage (where the actors go through the motions whilst the set is constructed around them!).

The disc is released on the Revolver Entertainment label on 7 September, Certificate ‘15’ with a  RRP £14.99, or less from www.culttvstore.com

Last modified on Thursday, 10 May 2012 16:37

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