Rouhollah Hejazi’s The Dark Room starts with a mother’s panic and rarely lets up from then on. When four-year-old Amir (Alireza Mirsalari) goes missing, his parents are obviously delighted but concerned when he’s found asleep in the desert. When Aamir innocently asks his father, Farhad (Saed Soheili), who he’s allowed to show his naked body to, the family are plunged into an uncomfortable search for answers.
The Dark Room is a deeply uncomfortable film, and not just because it skirts around the issue of child abuse. Farhad believes the search for answers is ‘men’s business’ and shuts out his wife, Haleh (Sareh Bayat), from his investigations. For her part, Haleh sees danger everywhere and wants swift justice for any trespasses against her son. Over time, their need for answers starts to become their undoing as Hejazi peels back the layers of their marriage.
Like Andrey Zvyagintsev’s Loveless, The Dark Room sees two people using a tragedy involving their son as reasons to tear chunks out of each other for past misgivings that have been marinating for some time. Previously a source of shared amusement, Haleh being much older than Farhad becomes a bone of contention. So too has Haleh’s position in the home. Once a translator, she has now taken on the roles of housewife and shop assistant seemingly to appease her husband’s conservative worldview, whilst allowing her a semblance of independence. For his part, Farhad disagrees with how Haleh disciplines their child and blames her family for his obsession with superheroes. It’s not long before their concerns for Aamir become second to fighting in front of the petrified child.
Both Bayat and Soheli give excellent performances which only adds to the discomfort of watching two people seemingly in love struggling to understand what’s happening to their family. When revelations do reveal themselves, Hejazi ensures that they come at a cost. Unfortunately, he seems more concerned with the build-up than the fallout. And when everything is literally laid out on the table in the final act, it’s frustrating that the director doesn’t explore it further.