The Butterfly Room (2012) | This dark psychological thriller demands to be seen by a wider audience of horror fans
Reviewed by Alan Hoare
The Butterfly Room is a 2012 American-Italian psychological thriller-horror film directed by Jonathan Zarantonello, based on his unpublished novel Alice dalle 4 alle 5 (Alice from 4 to 5). A reclusive, butterfly-obsessed, elderly lady suffering from bipolar disorder develops a disturbing relationship with a mysterious but seemingly innocent youngster…
Barbara Steele as Ann
Ray Wise as Nick
Erica Leerhsen as Claudia
Heather Langenkamp as Dorothy
Camille Keaton as Olga
Adrienne King as Rachel
P. J. Soles as Lauren
Ellery Sprayberry as Julie
Julia Putnam as Alice
James Karen as Sales Clerk
The film opens with a young girl taking a bath, as her mother knocks on the door, the girl’s period starts and her mother bursts in, calling her a filthy child and saying she was so much nicer when she was younger. The mother pushes the child’s head into the bath water.
We next see Ann, a reclusive elegant lady, walking down the street, kicking a workers ladder causing him to fall of the ladder, only being saved by his lanyard. His supervisor, Nick, apologies to Ann, claiming it was the workers fault. Ann returns to her apartment and hears the sobbing nine-year-old Julie in the hallway. It seems her mother has failed to collect her from school, so Ann invites her in, and introduces Julie to her world of butterfly collecting.
Julie’s mother, Claudia, eventually turns up and thinks Ann, inviting her to dinner the following evening. Before leaving, Claudia queries the frequent banging noises emanating from Ann’s apartment. Ann denies any such noise, but as Claudia and Julie return arguing in their apartment the banging starts.
The narrative takes its first jump and introduces us to Ann’s earlier meeting with the eerily beautiful young Alice whilst in a shopping mall. Using her seductive innocence, Alice establishes a disturbing mother/daughter relationship with Ann, which is based around receiving money from Ann. We soon learn Ann craves this relationship to replace the loss of her own daughter. Each time they meet Ann has to pay more and more money to Alice.
Once again the narrative jumps and we see Ann in full fumigation gear in a lift spraying acid on bodies hidden in the lift shaft. The scene is made even stranger when an obviously stoned passenger joins her. As the relationship between Ann and Julie continues to develop, the back-story of Alice’s other “mothers” unfolds. Ann soon learns of this and begins to murder them, throwing one down the lift shaft and causing an air embolism in the other. Anne is now free to look after Alice, however they have a row, and the resolution of this is never resolved.
Claudia asks Ann to look after Julie whilst she is away for a romantic weekend. With the inevitable curiosity of a child, Julie begins to explore the corners of Ann’s apartment, discovering the dark secret of the girl (Alice) hidden in the walls of the forbidden butterfly room. No one believes what Julie has seen except for Ann’s estranged daughter Dorothy.
The next day, Ann asks Janitor Nick to block the door to the butterfly room with a large wardrobe. Nick offers to do some cash in hand work for Ann as he knows she is illegally breaking down a plasterboard partition in the apartment. She reacts violently to this and throws him out. Ann’s estranged daughter Dorothy visits Ann and it becomes clear she was the girl seen in the opening scenes. They argue, causing Julie to hide in the wardrobe where she discovers the back is flimsy and can gain access to the butterfly room.
Claudia returns from her weekend to collect Julie and is drowned in the bath by Ann, just as Julie learns the terrible truth of the butterfly room. Nick arrives to find Claudia’s dead body and the body of his missing co-worker and see Ann chasing Julie with a sledgehammer Ann and Julie run out to the street where Ann is run over and killed by Dorothy who has just arrived at the scene after summoning up the courage to confront an evil that has haunted her for years.
The narrative jumps forward and we see that Julie now lives with Dorothy’s family and as they pose for a family photo Dorothy says the chilling words to her son ‘you were so much nicer when you were younger’.
Jonathan Zarantonello has produced a marvellously-complex, dark psychological thriller that examines the human psyche on many levels. His use of the regular jumps (backwards and forwards) in narrative confuses and misinforms the viewer, however all the disparate plot strands come neatly together in the final reel when we discover the true nature of the psychotic Anna.
Barbara Steele is amazing in the role of Anna, making her both malevolent and sweet at the same time. She clearly relishes the role and has some wonderfully playful dialogue and marvelouslly bizarre scenes, such a meeting the dope head in the lift whilst she is fully dressed in bug spraying costume. It’s not made clear if Anna is psychotic from the start, or has been made this way by her own experiences with her daughter Dorothy, and surrogate daughter Alice. But this just adds nicely to the mystery and darkness of the plot. All the characters, except Julie, appear to have agendas that will benefit themselves, at the expense of others. Alice has several mothers for reasons unexplained, Claudia has a clandestine affair with a co-worker, Ann certainly has her own agenda and Nick appears to be besotted with Ann.
The use of former horror scream icons is handled well and they all play their part very well in this densely plotted well acted film. The soundtrack is suitably dark and aggressive and matches the on screen action very well indeed. The film won the Denis-de-Rougemont Youth Award at the 2012 Neuchâtel International Fantastic Film Festival, but seems to have been relegated to sell through DVD Oblivion. This is a real shame as the film certainly demands to be seen by a wider audience of horror fans.