On its surface, The Immaculate Room is a contest. A game. If you and your romantic partner can spend fifty days in a stark white room with nothing but a bed, minimalist couch-like ottoman, and bathroom that only allows one contestant at a time, you go home with five million dollars. It seems easy because it is—if you’re only looking at the surface. Peel back the layers of its conceit, however, and you see potential for participants to go stir-crazy with nothing but their own wits to keep them busy. Add public knowledge that the person orchestrating everything is a professor infamous for pricy social experiments that have ended in tragedy; you might think twice about whether the reward truly outweighs the risk.

Kate (Kate Bosworth) never bothered looking that deep. She sees nothing but the opportunity presented as the product of a rough childhood marked by money problems. Mikey (Emile Hirsch) didn’t have to look; he already knew. An artist from a well-to-do family, he pays attention to pop-culture frivolities and current events. He finds them entertaining. To enter this room with Kate is thus a lark. Maybe it proves too challenging for him to reach the finish line, but who cares? Life will move on. The same can’t be said for Kate. That money is how her life moves on. Thus the hope is that they can sustain each other, but it’s tough to know if that’s possible upon learning this is their relationship’s “second chance.”

Writer-director Mukunda Michael Dewil has created a psychological experiment to push his characters past their breaking points and see how they respond. Because while the prospect of going home millionaires is a uniquely universal experience they can both agree upon, nothing else is. While Kate meditates to pass time, Mikey stares at the clock. She has the mental fortitude to survive isolation. He is an extrovert who demands enrichment from human interaction. This fundamental difference is portrayed to perfection once they receive a family video from the outside. Mikey knew it was coming and even talks to the image of his sister as a means of coping with his solitude. Kate didn’t. And seeing who the professor tasked to supply her message destroys her.

But that’s part of the game, right? This unnamed puppet master isn’t gifting his money. He’s buying their cooperation and intentionally setting traps for them to walk through. Everything is meticulously constructed to keep them on edge: an automated voice and lighting system artificially telling them when it’s day and night (there are no windows), three square meals of nutrient-rich fluid in cardboard cartons. Kate and Mickey’s lives become monotony and playing patty cake only keeps them busy for so long before they need something more. That’s why each is allowed two “treats”—for a price. $100,000 for the first. $250,000 for the second. You better need that unknown jolt of adrenaline.

What unfolds is exactly what you’d assume. The Immaculate Room isn’t breaking the mold on this type of conceit; if anything it’s purposely embracing a narrow scope of mental fracturing the scenario can ignite and counting on the actors to make it compelling. Kate is the desperate one. The jealous and insecure one. Mikey goes with the flow. He jokes and adapts. Both harbor a dark secret—one that could potentially debilitate her into not wanting to move and provoke him into demanding escape. Will he be able to get her back and thus not feel as though he’s alone? Will she be able to calm him down enough to keep him in the room? If one decides to leave, the other’s prize money drops to a million.

For their part, Bosworth and Hirsch do intrigue. Who they are beyond the superficial quips and attitudes at the start is gradually revealed as days progress and their inevitable unraveling exacerbates when they begin buying their “treats”—each is uniquely chosen to simultaneously help the buyer and harm the companion. They are triggers and neither Kate nor Mikey are prepared to deal with what it is they trigger. Why? Because theirs isn’t a solid dynamic. Their history together has had its ups and downs, there’s never been a proposal, and their conversations only seem to flirt with hard truths. What then will the money do for them? They believe it’s an answer, but will only be a Band-Aid at best. At worst it’s their undoing.

Which it becomes, and just how volatile things get is the reason we watch. You can start drawing conclusions, however, when the first mind game played upon this couple is letting them wake to a loaded gun on the sink. It’s the sort of provocative development that goes hand-in-hand with the drama: will it galvanize them to grow closer or fuel their paranoia and drive them apart? It’s the same with a green crayon or a stranger (Ashley Greene Khoury’s Simone). Every detail is meant to poke them to attention and demand they answer once and for all whether their love is enough. Basic or not, this journey should effectively earn its keep as a diversionary weekend rental.

The Immaculate Room hits limited release and VOD on August 19.

Grade: B-

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