In the Room Where He Waits is the year’s best Australian horror

Hotel rooms are an enigma. Though they appear clean, we have no idea who stayed there before us or what happened, if anything. A lonely businessman checking in for the night to get some rest in between meetings, a family having a vacation with screaming kids, or back in 2020, as holding facilities for travellers during the Covid-19 pandemic that swept the world. This is the exact premise of In The Room Where He Waits, a gothic horror set in the confines of the James Hotel in Brisbane. The film is haunting and moody, forcing us to confront any of our unresolved trauma from the pandemic while infusing some often shocking horror scares that deliver one of the best debut films from a director. 

It is the height of COVID and Tobin Wade (Daniel Monks) is stuck in hotel quarantine in Brisbane after the death of his father. Tobin has moved to New York City and is all set to play Tom Wingfield in The Glass Menagerie on Broadway. He has just broken up with his boyfriend Adrian and is starting to settle into his single life, trolling for potential trade on Grindr, while isolated in his hotel room. Every morning, Tobin wakes up, does some light exercise, calls his mum to confirm funeral arrangements, and dials into his theatre company’s rehearsals, which are being conducted via Zoom (a memory we would all soon rather forget!). When the day is over and night creeps in, Tobin opens up Grindr in an attempt to get some attention from headless torsos that he knows he can never have in his current predicament. 

The hotel room he has been assigned is playing up. His room key mysteriously moves out of the console during the night, plunging the room into pitch darkness. When he wakes, a pair of white briefs, a shirt, and cufflinks perfectly folded appear to have been forgotten by the previous guest. A strange presence can be felt in these shadows as the curtains slightly move, egging Tobin to put the clothes on, to go into the bathtub, to appear as a manifestation of his lustful thoughts on Grindr. While Tobin cannot leave the room, he must do what he can to survive the horror that resides in the room and in his mind. 

Director Timothy Despina Marshall has crafted an intensely claustrophobic film. While many of us are still attempting to heal from the trauma that was the Covid-19 pandemic (particularly if you lived in Melbourne!) and this film does a great job of really tapping into that to capitalise on any unresolved feelings you have about this period. Having the lead trapped in a room, unable to leave for any reason is also the perfect setting for a horror movie. In this way, it felt similar to Evil Dead Rise delivering a similar level of intense claustrophobia with no way to escape. 

Ben Cotgrove’s cinematography is nothing short of incredible. A lot of the fear and tension comes from the setting, and it is no easy feat to do this in only two rooms (the hotel room and bathroom) The shadows of the curtains that slightly move in the non-existent breeze leave you on edge. There are two tones of darkness, the typical night and one that moves into the room, creeping over Tobin’s security. This all works hand in hand with the bemoaning score from Joseph Twist. As the hauntings get more intense and Tobin’s visions start to blur into reality, Twist ensures that every beat is pulling you closer to the horror as it intensifies. 

Monks’s performance is wonderful. Having the majority of the film rest on his shoulders as the other characters appear briefly on screen is no easy feat. As the haunting intensifies and the lines are blurred between the supernatural and reality, you can feel him slowly losing his grip on reality. His struggle with his sexuality, his family acceptance, the death of his drunk loser father and recent breakup with his boyfriend are all a swirling mess that fuels this presence that lingers in the room. This unforgettable performance will no doubt propel Monk’s career. 

In the Room Where He Waits is an incredible debut from Timothy Despina Marshall, who understands the complexities of a horror film and provides meaning behind the scares. Incorporating the horrors of Covid-19 and the isolation we all lived through plays out fantastically on screen. This is helped by a phenomenal performance from Monks and a bathroom scene you won’t soon forget. 

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Hotel rooms are an enigma. Though they appear clean, we have no idea who stayed there before us or what happened, if anything. A lonely businessman checking in for the night to get some rest in between meetings, a family having a vacation with...In the Room Where He Waits is the year's best Australian horror