FERMAT’S ROOM (2007)
Written and Directed by Luis Piedrahita and Rodrigo Sopeña
Spanish language with English subtitles
A group of mathematicians are invited to a special gathering to solve an enigma. Each given pseudonyms to use at the meeting, they follow the instructions laid out for them until they meet the host himself, Fermat. When he’s suddenly called away due to a family emergency, the group of four are unsure what to with themselves, that is until they receive their first time-sensitive problem via a PDA they’ve been left with. It all seems like a bit of harmless fun until they realise that the walls are closing in on the room they’re residing in when they don’t answer the question correctly in the time they’re allotted. With the riddles firing in one after the other, it’s only a matter of time before they’ll be crushed alive. Will they discover the motive for their murder before it’s too late?
Spanish mystery thriller FERMAT’S ROOM is one of those movies that you instantly expect to be great. With an intriguing plot centred around mathematic puzzles, most of which I suck at, I expected the film to be on the same level as CUBE but unfortunately it falls short on achieving the tension that propelled that film as a cult favourite. Stuck with four individuals: young math whizzkid using ‘Galois’ (Alejo Sauras) who gained public attention by announcing to the world he had solved Goldbach’s conjecture; mystery woman ‘Oliva’ (Elena Ballesteros); chess-master and mathematic veteran ‘Hilbert’ (Lluís Homar) and struggling inventor ‘Pascal’ (Santi Millán), who’s only invite to the party was down to an unintentional hint by a librarian. The four seemingly have little in common except for a love of puzzles but they begin to question their connection when it appears their summoning is for more than just brain-teasers. ‘Fermat’ himself (Federico Luppi) doesn’t even seem keen on joining the group, appearing late at the secluded factory inside which resides the lavish meeting room where great puzzles are to be solved. What is Fermat’s real intention behind their meeting and what lengths will he go to get what he desires?
What starts off as a great idea soon becomes a bit silly thanks to the lack of tension built up within the room between the characters and the weak puzzles which often result in a complicated answer that could not possibly be answered and recognised as correct automatically by a bot in charge of the puzzle program Fermat has set up via PDA. Whilst the automation adds a thrill of the characters being in charge of their own destiny, the way they react to their unfavourable surroundings begins to become less believable as time rolls on. For instance, why would someone let the room close in just to see if their theory worked before hitting the submit button on what they know is the correct answer to the puzzle? The film becomes less about problem solving and more about the characters we’re stuck in the room with and, to be honest, they’re not that interesting with most, other than Pascal, interested in only themselves and their ego.
Not quite achieving the claustrophobia as felt in Cube, FERMAT’S ROOM struggles to hit a home run both as a mystery and a thriller. The performances too are a little hit and miss with some actors stronger than others (the most notable performance being Lluís Homar) with a script that just about scrapes through to back up the curious story the filmmakers have laid out. There’s pretty much no horror to be seen of here unless the threat of death is enough to send a chill down your spine. That’s right, no booby traps to chop you up into little pieces – just four hydraulic presses ready to squish you into a gooey mess. The close-up shots of the room closing in lessens the impact of the danger our characters face and whilst we hope they can solve the riddles, many come in thick and fast after completion that there’s just not enough time to give a damn about the characters, the puzzles or their imminent deaths.
It might be an interesting premise but FERMAT’S ROOM is one problem that isn’t that hard to solve.