In James W. Griffiths’s “Room 8,” a prisoner finds a box with a dark, intriguing secret in his new jail cell. A psychological Escher painting of a film, it thrums with claustrophobia as we watch the protagonist step into the undertow of his own curiosity.
Griffiths’s film is one of five different films from the same script, created as part of Bombay Sapphire’s Imagination Series. Oscar winner Geoffrey Fletcher (Precious) was selected to provide the source text and wrote a script stripped of any stage direction or character names, then the contest asked people to imagine their version of a film around that simple script.
Five films were developed from the winning scripts. The five embrace the imaginative exercise, each striving to tell distinctly different stories: in “The Mrs,” the malaise of a long term relationship finds sudden criminal excitement;
“Water Song,” tells the story of a hearing impaired competitive swimmer and a secret;
the animated film “Crab” has two crabs collide over what to do with a magic bottle on the beach, their curiosity having fatal consequences for the entire universe;
and in “Concrete,” a cleaning lady and business man face off over a magic box.
The films incorporate some small dialogue changes but these are, for the most part, cosmetic and Fletcher’s original text is at the foundation of each of the diverse stories.
“Room 8” takes that simple scenario and applies it to a perfectly small premise: two men in a jail cell and a small, horrific warning against curiosity. The loop of the plot here is in itself particularly satisfying: this happened and will continue to happen after the film ends, due to the nature of human curiosity and the desire to be, externally at least, free.
The most marvelous shot is also the most nihilistic perhaps: the Michaelangelo-esque Adam touching the hand of God moment, a sense that we are our only chance for divine intervention; there is no God, which, in this world, means we are left to our own flawed devices, our own horrible choices, the world turning in on itself as we hurl ourselves into awful endings.
I did find myself wanting a little more from this iteration of the script. In its present form I am not entirely clear what the man in the cell gets from the loop. If, for instance, he wanted the cell to himself, or found others too noisy, then he would have a personal stake in this peculiar collaboration with his jailers. As it stands his stake is unclear so he remains perhaps too simple an antagonist. Regardless, that doesn’t take away from the horror of what is in the drawer and the pleasure of a vertiginous window into possibility that then torques into a narrow hell.
Bombay Sapphire’s Imagination Series seems to be ongoing: in 2014 the second series of films premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival, these built from a new script by Geoffrey Fletcher. “Room 8” is Griffiths’s third short film and it went on to win the Bafta for Best British Short Film.
—R. W. Gray