In the Room Where He Waits review: Daniel Monks transfixes in this spooky chiller

Timothy Despina Marshall’s debut directorial feature marks him out as one to watch.
In The Room Where He Waits. Image supplied.

It takes a remarkable actor to hold an audience rapt single-handedly. Even more so when the impersonal lines of a generic hotel room define their stage.

Wiradjuri star Joel Bray achieved it with his deeply personal live performance piece, Biladurang. Daniel Monks, award-winning star of stage and screen, has what it takes, too, underlined by his commanding turn in director Timothy Despina Marshall’s spooky, lockdown-shot debut feature, In the Room Where He Waits.

It casts Perth-born, London-based Monks as Tobin ‘Tobi’ Wade, a stage actor who has landed his first big Broadway gig in the juicy role of unreliable narrator Tom from Tennessee Williams’ haunting The Glass Menagerie. But this glorious achievement has been overshadowed, first by Tobi’s break up with his boyfriend, then almost derailed by a family tragedy that necessitates his return to Brisbane.

Languishing in two weeks’ mandated hotel room quarantine, Tobi’s first glimpsed sobbing through the steamed-up curtain of a shower, his guttural sobs muffled by running water and the piercing niggle of composer Joseph Twist’s already unnerving, string-laden score.

He hasn’t told his tetchy director, Matthew (Anthony Brandon Wong), the truth about this relocation, feigning an escape to Los Angeles while rehearsals are forced onto Zoom. A white lie guarded by his best mate and Menagerie co-star Sienna (Annabel Marshall-Roth) in New York.

Laden with artistic anxieties on top of a frayed heart, Tobi struggles to grasp his lines and the intricacies of Williams’ text while wrangling with the isolating realities of his position. Increasingly fearing that he isn’t alone in this room he cannot leave, he’s ensnared by difficult history. Hitting the mini bar hard, his increasingly sweaty, sleep-deprived delirium conjures monstrous suggestions out of little more than darkened doors and the silhouette of hulking security guards.

All this is exacerbated by the presence of a previous guest’s discarded clothes, the seemingly ordinary possessed by an In Fabric-level menace.

All the hotel room’s a stage

As a film that encompasses the theatrical form, Marshall’s startlingly assured, psychologically unmooring spinechiller makes full use of Monk’s considerable talents.

Revelatory in the lead role of queer body swap drama Pulse (2017), directed by Stevie Cruz-Martin from Monk’s own screenplay, he has also popped up in the lightweight Zak Efron romp Ricky Stanicky plus Hannah Barlow and Kane Senes’ social media influencer horror movie, Sissy on the big screen.

He’s proven his mettle on stage, too, in the lead role of Malthouse Theatre’s The Real and Imagined History of the Elephant Man, and on London’s West End – alongside Game of Thrones star Emilia Clarke  – in Chekov’s The Seagull, filmed for the National Theatre Live series. Monks innately understands how to capture the audience’s attention, whether from the intimately delineated confines of a (hotel room) stage or through the lens of a camera.

Delivering a genuinely magnetic performance, you can feel the raw authenticity of Tobi snapping at Sienna as she attempts to calm him while juggling her closer-to-home fears during the chaos of the pandemic – props to Marshall-Roth for conveying such oversized warmth via small screens.

Susie Porter sublimely depicts Tobi’s overbearing mum through unintentionally heckling phone calls, with their brilliantly observed moments capturing how we instantly bristle at parents’ well-meaning but ultimately vexing suggestions, like recommending Tobi take up a local theatre job as an usher, rather than an actor.

Tobi’s time-killing scrolling of Grindr – ‘I need a distraction,’ he tells Sienna. ‘It’s like a video game with hot guys’ – adeptly captures the toxic pitfalls of our smartphone-ensnared lives. The often-faceless torsos on the hook-up app’s grid are ghouls who come bearing body shaming scares. It’s heartbreaking to watch how Tobi, as played by hemiplegic actor Monks, takes his topless shots from certain angles because he knows how he’ll be perceived by the cruelly vacuous, insidiously chipping away at his buried insecurities.

A confession to his mum about why he stayed so long in a failing relationship is also quietly devastating.

With not a moment wasted by Marshall’s screenplay, wrought from a story co-conceived with Dimple Rajyaguru and Paradox Delilah, In the Room Where He Waits layers an immense amount of bitter and beautiful truths into its tautly terrifying 83-minute frame as Tobi unravels at dangers real or imagined.

Twist’s knife-turning score, which can’t help but evoke Psycho any time a shower curtain’s drawn, cuts deep. Ben Cotgrove’s agile cinematography deftly creeps around this claustrophobic space, exacerbating Tobi’s increasingly frantic panic. Very few films with far bigger budgets eke this much cinematic magic from such a simple set-up.

‘Time is the longest distance between two places,’ says Tennessee’s Tom, with Marshall and Monks working wonders in this cramped yet oddly expansive space where boundaries collapse, confronting Tobi with perhaps the scariest thing of all: what we’re running from and the ever-shrinking space between here and there.

In the Room Where He Waits is showing at:

Sydney, Golden Age – 26 June and 7 July.

Brisbane, Dendy – 30 June.

Canberra, Dendy – 7 July.


5 out of 5 stars

In The Room Where He Waits


Daniel Monks, Annabel Marshall-Roth, Susie Porter, Anthony Brandon Wong 


Timothy Despina Marshall

Format: Movie

Country: Australia

Release: 26 June 2024