Since having a kid I've been accused (sometimes accurately) of being too easy/soft on movies that play up on parental fears, with my childless (or just less anxious) colleagues seeing right through the cheap tricks that often leave me tense enough to think the movie's better than it is. Well, if that's the case, that just makes The Disappointments Room an even bigger failure, because it's essentially about parents grieving the death of their newborn and it barely ever had me feeling much of anything, let alone that choking "Oh god what if this happened to me?" thing that movies like Annabelle have benefitted from. Hell, they're even in the process of moving, a torturous experience I am currently just finishing up (meaning: I know where most of my things are and more mail is coming to the new place than the old), and the movie STILL couldn't manage to hook me in on an "I can relate!" level. I can think of no more damning indictment of a film than "I am going through the same thing and yet you're making me feel nothing."
The film begins like roughly 11,000 other horror movies, with a family moving from the city into a big creepy house in the country. When they enter it seems like it's the first time they've ever been there, and mom Kate Beckinsale (another thing that should make it easy for me to like this movie) quickly sets about unpacking - a task she starts ignoring once she discovers the requisite locked door that leads to a room that isn't in the house's blueprints (because in these kinds of movies, people always have the home's original design at their disposal). Even their dead baby could figure out that this room is where the film's title comes from, and you can set your watch by the point where Beckinsale finally learns what exactly a "disappointments room" is - almost exactly the halfway point of the clearly abbreviated runtime. For those not in the know (it's a real thing!), back in the day kids that were born with abnormalities or impairments were considered an embarrassment by their well-to-do parents, and thus kept in these rooms for their entire lives, hidden from view and protecting the parents from the scorn they'd surely receive.
So now you know where it's going from here - the ghosts that have been appearing to Kate in quick glimpses throughout the film (or to her 5-ish son if the movie decides it needs a scare) are clearly the previous owners, and she must look at old clippings and probably find a decomposed body in the chimney or backyard that needs to be properly buried so that she and her family can be safe, right? Well, not really. Because this isn't just a supernaturally charged ghost story - it's also a melodrama about a family putting themselves back together after a tragedy (the aforementioned infant death), and it's also a half-assed Repulsion wannabe about a woman cracking up. Director DJ Caruso (working from a script by Wentworth Miller that he rewrote enough to earn writing credit) dives into the cliches of all three kinds of movies, sometimes in back to back scenes - at one point Beckinsale runs from a big breakdown scene (broken dishes, crying on the floor, the whole nine yards) directly into the horror movie staple of a woman running around and finding a fresh corpse.
Polanski he is not, but oddly it's the Repulsion-y stuff that works best, with heightened sounds of dripping water (from a leaky ceiling, but also from a bathtub in an obligatory failed suicide flashback), the kid's crappy TV programs, and dishes being unpacked and put away helping us feel her stress as she tries to get back into her day to day routine. We don't know HOW the baby died until (far too) late into the movie, but at least Caruso doesn't delay the basic info for too long, making it relatively easy to understand why she's so frazzled. Unfortunately, since he can't decide what kind of movie he's making, it's all for naught - her inner trauma is justified by the presence of Gerald McRaney as the ghost of the previous owner, who is clearly not a friendly kind of apparition. Even if Beckinsale is just imagining his presence, we know there is clearly something strange about him and his legacy, as there's a nice oil painting of him that is covered by an oddly placed mirror, and there's a random scene where the local historian finds out about all of these murders that occurred in the house - this sort of stuff is at odds with the idea that she's just going nuts because of her grief. In order for these sorts of plots to work, everything has to remain with her POV, which it doesn't - in addition to the librarian's findings, there's a scene where her kid sees the ghost of McRaney's daughter (the "disappointment" due to some sort of neurofibromatosis like affliction). Sure, it's fine to misdirect the audience, but only from the POV of the person that's going nuts - if these other people have evidence that things aren't right in the house, the whole "she's just crazy" angle falls apart.
It doesn't help that the melodramatic angle fails miserably due to Beckinsale not being equaled by her co-star. As her husband Mel Raido not only struggles with his accent, but he also gets precious few scenes to himself, so it's hard to really get into the whole family tragedy when we barely see/hear his perspective on the matter (same goes for the kid, who also disappears entirely during the big breakdown moment in the third act). There's a nice bit where he sits in a room alone watching a video of the baby in her crib, but that's about it - a later scene where he visits a psychiatrist back in New York is too disconnected to work (that it comes right after a flashback also set in the city had me momentarily confused, thinking it was still part of the past), and it's also around this point that the movie starts to show more than a few seams, as if it was re-edited haphazardly. Suddenly they have best friends who we've never heard mentioned before, and the husband's got this tacky donut light in the dining room that seems like Beckinsale's designer character would never allow (though it fits in with an earlier, equally distracting Krispy Kreme product placement), making me wonder if there was a two hour cut that gave equal prominence to both parents before they decided to focus on Kate and cut the thing down to 88 minutes or so. Celia Weston gets third billing for a single scene that runs about 90 seconds, in which she talks about a character we never meet, so that also had me wondering how much of the movie we were actually seeing.
And then there's Lucas Till's character, who is the local handyman hired to help fix the leaky roof, but seems to just sit with Beckinsale and smoke while making blatant attempts to hit on her. Like most of the film's subplots, there's no real payoff to any of this, and you could probably cut him out of the movie without it mattering in the slightest (had she actually accepted his advances, maybe this would be a very different review). Her secret smoking habit is never discovered by her husband or her son, Till's character has no real closure (spoiler: he is seemingly killed by McRaney's ghost, then there's a hint that Beckinsale actually killed him, and then... well, that's it - we never find out if she did, or if he is even actually dead), nor does it turn out he's just a figment of her imagination or something. Much like the ghost stuff, Caruso blows the possibility that Till isn't real by having a scene where the husband talks to him, even more pointless when you realize that after that point you never see him interact with anyone ever again. It's like reading a Choose Your Own Adventure book in sequential order instead of following the prompts to turn to specific pages - you're getting the basic idea, but nothing is really paying off and the pages aren't connecting in any meaningful way.
Miller's last produced script was Stoker, and Caruso's last wide release feature was I Am Number Four, so I am going to have to assume the latter man deserves more of the blame here. I don't know the production history, but if I had to guess, Miller wrote something more dramatic and psychologically charged (you know, like Stoker), and Caruso tried to make something more commercial out of it by transforming it into a ghost movie (it's worth noting that Miller has made zero mention of the film's release on his Twitter - neither has Beckinsale, actually). Then there was almost certainly some re-editing, resulting in a mess that feels more like the DVD's deleted scenes and alternate endings collection than an actual feature. Without any proper scares to make it successful as a horror film (though there is a surprisingly gruesome death scene courtesy of KNB) and the characters too poorly sketched to make the drama work (early on, David says he has no job beyond playing video games, but later he leaves on a business trip in order for a couple of plot points to land - huh?), the movie is simultaneously over and undercooked, the kind of thing you'll forget about before getting back into you car. The title gives you an opening for plenty of easy jokes, but honestly it's not worth the relative effort - save your puns for a movie that can at least be bothered to pick a sub-genre to fail at.