Creative Commons License

Fermat’s Room -- a Film Review

Wednesday, July 08, 2009 at 09:40 AM EDT

This is a film about maths boffins. Yet there is nary a sign to be had of a calculator, a square-lined jotter, or even a humble pair of thick-lens glasses held together by sticky tape. Instead, the opening scene introduces us to three simpering girls listening to some hip-looking bloke explain how he is about to unveil a proof to a problem that has defied mathematicians for centuries. He then tries to turn the girls on with an overacted demonstration of his calculating prowess. Yikes to that!

When the next scene confronts our numerate Lothario with the sight of his thrashed dorm room, the Dan Brown alarm bells are ringing loudly and your reviewer’s eyes are drawn immediately towards the nearest way out, just in case a swift, sharp exit is to be required. At the same time, the film had warned the audience from the outset that they needed to know what a prime number was in order to properly enjoy the film. Accordingly, I was already feeling honour-bound to stay with this number-cruncher and bone-crusher of a story!

In fairness, after these unlikely opening scenes, the film does settle down nicely into being a reasonable suspense-filled thriller thereafter. Moreover, the audience warning above is more for dramatic effect than anything else – so there is no need to pack a calculator! The basic idea is that four strangers are assembled in a room at the invitation of a mysterious host. Their evening then rapidly turns into a battle to stay alive, as they discover that the room is a trap and that they need to solve a series of puzzles under time pressure in order to stay alive.

While this makes for an ambitious and dynamic plot, the script does buckle every now and then under the weight of trying to solve riddles against the clock, while ways to escape are sought and they try to figure out who their tormentor is. As a result, the audience often has to make a decision in terms of either trying to figure out the solutions to the challenges that the four are being set or to just focus on the general story in order to try and guess what the overall outcome will be.

The acting is very much a team effort, with no one character especially standing out, whilst each brings a suitably different personality into this pressurised situation. Furthermore, despite the adverse effect that it has on the script, there is an impressive zippiness to how the story unfolds. This allows a great deal of drama to be squashed into a modest ninety-minute runtime, even if there are some blink-and-you-have-missed-them developments. Towards the ends, the need to keep twisting the tale does start to make the plot rather convoluted, but the story is close enough to its denouement for this not to be a significant problem.

On the whole, Fermat’s Room is a decent thriller for fans of European cinema, whose faults lie mostly in its overly ambitious nature. However, for this reviewer, that is one of the least grevious sins that a director can be found guilty of.