Cosmopolitan nostalgia

Soha Hesham
Tuesday 13 Dec 2022

Soha Hesham saw one of Shahid platform’s new horror productions

 

One of the latest releases on Shahid is the controversial TV series Room 207, based on the late Ahmed Khaled Tawfik’s 2008 novel, The Secret of Room 207. Directed by Mohamed Bekir with screenplay by Tamer Ibrahim, the show is set in a small hotel overlooking the Mediterranean in Marsa Matrouh in 1968. It opens with Gamal Al-Sawaf (Mohamed Farrag) arriving there to meet the hotel director Khawaga Michael (Murad Makram), khawaga being a title for foreigners or Egyptians of foreign extraction, in order to apply for the job of receptionist, replacing the sudden suicide of the receptionist Ustaz Roushdy, which is deliberately kept from him.

Gamal is a middle-aged man coming from the modest Nile Delta city of Damanhour for a fresh start in a remote area, pursuing his passion for hotel work. He is helpful and an avid reader of world literature, and he can speak many languages including Khawaga Michael’s native Italian. But Gamal soon finds out there is something wrong with room 207 when Doctor Sherine (Reham Abdel-Ghaffour) rents that specific room and demands his presence, giving him a hard time as she reveals some of his own darker secrets: how, for example, he had been unfaithful to his ex-wife.   

When Gamal starts sharing his experience of the room with Aam Mina (Kamel Al-Basha), the elderly janitor who has worked at the hotel for years, Aam Mina advises him not to set foot in that room and not to talk about what happens there with anyone.

Every episode features new guests who ask specifically for room 207 – with new guest stars – revealing a little more of its secrets. A female receptionist named Sara Hussein (Nardin Farag) joins Gamal, and she quickly picks up the same feelings about the room. They join forces to find out what happens there.

One episode stars Ali Al-Tayeb and Mariam Al-Khesht as a couple who come to the hotel asking for room 207. During their stay there they complain to Gamal that the television is not working properly – even though there are no televisions in the hotel rooms. A television does appear there, however, and it keeps showing some of the couple’s darkest secrets together with some of Sara’s own personal history, which explains why she left abruptly when he took her out to dinner.

Another story features a man named Mohamed Al-Sayegh (Mahmoud Hafez) who enters the reception of the hotel with his bride in a wedding dress with a veil covering her face and asks for his reservation: room 207. When Gamal informs him that the room is busy and he can have another, he bursts out in anger and insists on staying in room 207 in a very aggressive way. When he finally gets it his bride never leaves, and Mohamed Al-Sayegh keeps requesting ice from room service. It eventually becomes clear that the bride is a corpse. Every year at the same date this man arrives with the corpse of his dead wife and keeps it in the bath with ice. As it turns out this is one of the least convincing tales in the series, presented without skill and barely holding together.

Whenever he enters the room Gamal experiences time shifts. He relives his past with his ex-wife when they were married. He eventually witnesses World I Battle of Vittorio Veneto, encountering the Italian man who built the hotel back in 1918. He was then disgraced as a traitor, and Michael’s father, Adriano (Abbas Aboul-Hassan) bought the hotel, as one guest (Razan Al-Maghrabi) tells Gamal during the battle’s anniversary celebration hosted by Khawaga Michael.

But the room has casualties: people are killing themselves right after or during their stay there, and even when Khawaga Michael decides that it should be renovated, one of the workers who undertake the work is killed and the other escapes. This has to do either with Adriano or with Gamal’s father, who apparently tried to kill Gamal by pushing him out of the window and regretted failing...  

The screenplay by Tamer Ibrahim fails to deliver a coherent explanation about the constant question about the room and whether the hotel owner is aware of its dark side, why he couldn’t just close it down, and it is only answered in the most absurd way: he is unable to. Other significant questions about the story of Sherine (Reham Abdel-Ghaffour), who she is and what her role in the room might be, are never answered.

The old, nostalgic ambiance is helped by Ashraf Al-Ziftawi’s score and Mounia Fatihelbab’s costumes, but the acting does not evoke the era as effectively even if it was good in itself. Farrag’s performance is consistent and coherent, so is Abdel-Ghaffour’s, and Nardine Farag does a great job considering that she is a television presenter and not an actress.

Watching this series recalls the 2007 film 1408 based on Stephen King’s eponymous short story, directed by Mikael Håfström, and starring Samuel L. Jackson and John Cusack. This psychological horror film is about Mike Enslin, an investigative author who pursues haunted houses, renting room 1408 at a New York City hotel only to fall prey to its incredible horrors.

Midnight at the Pera Palace, a Turkish Netflix release very similar to Room 207, went on air at the start of 2022. It features a room that takes its guests into past or future eras and is based on a non-fiction book Midnight at the Pera Palace: The Birth of Modern Istanbul by Charles King.

 


*A version of this article appears in print in the 15 December, 2022 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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