The Underrated: Fermat’s Room

This film came under the heading of “pleasant surprise”. I’m including it here, because it does merit discussion, and it has been shockingly overlooked. Maybe it’s the subtitles or something, but for the life of me, I can’t think why this taut little thriller (inaccurately billed as a horror movie) is being ignored. It’s fascinating actually, the process by which films come to receive a wide release, and I have to admit that my fascination in it is partially based on my lack of belief and understanding as to why certain films get the nod and certain others get the shaft. Still, though, Fermat’s Room has an absolutely glowing review from Phillip French in the Guardian, but even that wasn’t really enough to bring it the attention that it warrants.

This is an astonishingly simple little film. Think Ten Little Indians, but with fewer people, complicated puzzles and a nightmarish trap. It works like this: 4 prominent mathematicians are all sent a puzzle to solve, they all (one through a fluke) manage it, and so are invited to a jolly in the middle of nowhere to be hosted by happy fat man “Fermat”. He’s called away on an emergency, and then the games begin. It’s swiftly apparent that the doors are locked, and they are presented with a series of puzzles (some are famous, some are not) that they have to solve in record time to prevent them being crushed to death as the walls are shunted in by big hydraulic presses.

Our 4 protagonists are Lluís Homar as Hilbert, an elderly (a tad pompous) chess master and maths genius, Alejo Sauras as Galois, a young prodigy that’s solved Goldbach’s conjecture, Elena Ballesteros as Olivia, and Santi Millán as Pascal. Each of them  has achieved renown in the field of mathematics- with Galois having a working demonstration of a Goldbach’s conjecture: Every even integer greater than 2 can be expressed as the sum of two primes. Quite how you prove this, given that numbers are literally infinite, is beyond me, but hey-ho, I’m not a mathematician. As the plot thickens it becomes apparent that all 4 characters are linked to each other or Fermat himself, and eventually the villain is revealed and the escape effected.

This is a really good little film. It’s a strange hybrid of Cube and Saw without the gore of either, and as the walls start to come in the tension really starts to mount. Furthermore, the characters are all likable, which makes a pleasant change in these types of film, and although the links between them are both obvious and if stated solve the whodunnit instantly, it isn’t hard to suspend disbelief for them. It’s pretty easy to forgive Olivia, for example, for hiding her link as it is both extremely compromising and highly embarrassing. Secondly, the puzzles themselves are intrinsically fascinating and on more than one occasion I found myself trying to solve them in my head before the characters managed it on the screen.

There’s also a strong element of intentional humour running through the film- but this works to the benefit of the characters, and doesn’t distract from the plot. For example, Pascal and Galois deduce that it may be possible to stall the presses by using the items in the room. To which Pascal says “There’s only one way to find out”, and Galois (brilliantly) starts trying to work the maths out on a black board. The look of “you cretin” on Pascal’s face is absolutely golden. Which brings me neatly round to the acting. All of these actors are clearly accomplished, but performance of the film goes to Homar- he’s a blustering, pompous, tit with a core of solid steel. It’s a fantastic turn, and as he has easily the most complicated character it’s a credit that he comes out best in this.

This is a tough review to write without spoiling, and this really is a film you should see “clean”. So, as a result, this is going to be an extremely short little review. Nevertheless, there are some problems with the film. The first is that while for the most part suspension of disbelief isn’t that difficult, there are a few moments that literally induce an eye-roll. The first is the relationship between Pascal and Fermat (which stretches credulity beyond breaking point) and the second is the relationship between Olivia and Galois. The second is the more annoying of the two, because it appears out of the blue, and there is no way that these two characters would behave the way they have been towards each other for the rest of the film. Finally, and this is the kicker, the identity reveal is so easily worked out and so obvious that it’s astonishing that a room full of geniuses couldn’t crack it sooner.

I’ve also heard some inexplicable moaning about the subtitles being in the wrong font or some such. Ignore that.

For a debut film, it’s very hard to criticise Fermat’s Room. It’s assured, for the most part well written, and downright tense. Writer/ Directors Luis Piedrahita and Rodrigo Sopeña deserve huge credit for this, and Fermat’s Room is a thriller that actually thrills. Assured, tense and never boring, Fermat’s Room is worth a little of anyone’s time and though it does stretch things on a few occasions, it never squanders the good will it’s earned. Recommended.

Until next time,


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About Jarv

Workshy cynic, given to posting reams of nonsense on the internet and watching films that have inexplicably got a piss poor reputation.

21 responses to “The Underrated: Fermat’s Room”

  1. just pillow talk says :

    You’ve piqued my interest, since I’ve never even heard of this movie. It’s been duly added to the ever expanding queue…

  2. Bartleby says :

    Damn. I’ve seen this and really dug it too. Great review of it and capturing the charm that goes with it. You and I often disagree about what horror movies are, but I’m also of the mindset this isn;t a horror pic at all. It does have the vibe of Agatha Christie, but its unique enough to stand on its own.

    Jarv, have you seen any of the summer movies yet? Thor, Fast Five….Jumping the Broom? Ok, kidding.

    So far, the dumbhouse stuff hasnt disappointed, Ive mercifully dodged all three wedding comedies, and took in a load of interesting films at the film festival over the weekend. Tomorrow is The Beaver, and next week Pirates 4, Tree of Life, and Kung-Fu Panda 2. So far so good.

    I’m sure the crap will arrive though. The first opportunity for a real crap-up is X-Men First Class.

    • Jarv says :

      It’s a tough one to review, because to reveal the flaws spoils the film massively.

      Nevertheless, I really enjoyed it. A really pleasant surprise.

      I replied to that email a bit ago- did you get it?

  3. Droid says :

    I seemingly recall you telling me about this movie. But I’m not 100% sure. I was very possibly shitfaced at the time.

  4. Xiphos0311 says :

    Let me deviate into math nerdness for a moment. All the names used are based on real mathematicians some minor some famous, like Pascal, who was a contemporary and collaborator with Fermat. Together they did a shit ton of work together on probability theory. Pascal also created the first manual calculating machine/crude early computer which as an idea fits in nicely with using objects in the room as a means of making an escape.

    Goldbach Conjecture is a real life math mystery that hasn’t been solved but is firmly rooted in both Pascal and Fermat work. More so Fermat since his theory of adequality is what infinitesimal calculus is based on and the current thinking(OK current as of mid 90’s when I was in college.) is that infinitesimal calculus will solve the Conjecture.

    To bad this is in French which guarantees I will never ever watch it even though I savvy that shit language just fine.

    • koutchboom says :

      Is this film in French?

      • koutchboom says :

        Hahah I guess it is, I just looked at the pictures and assumed that was Spock/Baffalo Bill/Amy Adams.

    • Jarv says :

      Yes. They make a point of everyone in it being an actual maths nerd. Goldbach’s thingy serves as a serious point in the film.

      It’s Spanish- not Franch, not that that makes a lot of difference.

      • Xiphos0311 says :

        It’s Spanish? Sweet now I will watch it. I wonder I how i got it in my head it’s French? I guess I should read slower or wait till I have time.

        Goldbach is one of the holy grails of math mystery. If somebody ever cracks it could lead to a whole new math and countless application improved almost exponentially.

      • Jarv says :

        Yeah- I got that impression that it was up there with Fermat’s Last.

        Good film this, give it a shot.

  5. Col. Tigh-Fighter says :

    I have this and Primer, another (apparently) gem of a low-budget indie sat on my harddrive. Funnily enough, both loosely based around maths.

    I really should make the time for them. Life isn’t all ADD plots and SFX.

  6. ThereWolf says :

    Yeh, never heard of it. Interesting, though, I’ll be on the look-out for this one.

    Have to have a gander at Primer as well…

  7. Joachim Boaz says :

    Thanks for sharing! I’ve never heard of the director or the film — sounds very interesting…. The poster looks almost like a carbon copy of The Cube’s poster…

    • Jarv says :

      That’s where I’d seen it.

      Check this one out- it’s a good film and Mrs. Jarv really loved it. Even if the end is a bit daft.

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