WARNING: Please don’t read if you haven’t seen Room 104 4×07 Foam Party yet! SPOILERS AHEAD!
Watching this seventh episode of the final season of HBO’s late-night anthology series, Room 104, left me feeling….rather empty, like when all of the bubbles in a bubble bath melt into a flat, misty stupor. The Duplass’ prove once again that they seem to have become obsessed with flaunting an overt 1990s nostalgia theme throughout this entire sendoff season. We’ve already seen a 90s sitcom homage, an early 90s grunge singer character, a woman still attached to her 90s childhood, and a stereotypical professional wrestler famous from that era. I’d rather not speculate why the Duplass’ have been aggressive about feting the tropes and cliches of this time, but that is clearly how they are finishing their anthology series, whether we like it or not.
First off, I need to mention that I never had the honor of attending an actual foam party in the 1990s, nor did I even know they were an actual “thing,” so I lack the halcyon bias possibly required to have appreciated this episode more. According to an interview with Mark Duplass, he seems to feel that foam parties were something that everyone over the age of 30 were a part of at one point. This is, sadly, not the truth.
Second, I really dislike 1990s teen horror films, like I Know What You Did Last Summer, Halloween H2O, Idle Hands, The Rage: Carrie 2, My Boyfriend’s Back, even the original Buffy the Vampire Slayer, which is what this episode is desperate to evoke. Like, a lot. I get that the more commercial ones of the Weinstein-led Dimension era post-Scream success were made for a particular young audience. I never felt like I was a part of that crass, campy scene. Thus, leading to the vacuous and, sadly, desperate-to-impress main character, Jack (Benjamin Papac) in this episode, who always feels alienated in his little world. That is, until he latches on to a group of his victims…er…I meant “friends” he hasn’t known for very long in the form of Luke (Harvey Guillén), Jenna (Olivia Crocicchia), Hunter (Timothy Granaderos), and Morgan (Alison Jaye).
Much like “The Raft” section of Creepshow 2, all of these young adults are isolated where a mysterious and demonic force picks them off one-by-one once they make the mistake of touching a seemingly harmless substance floating by them.
In this case, the seemingly touchable object is some innocent-looking party foam Jack picked out. He doesn’t seem to know how to control the foam, or even how to shut off the machine he hides under one of the motel beds to surprise his compadres into a carefree night that is going to be more than an excuse to drink themselves stupid and (possibly) unsafe sex. Of course, there seems to be a lesson in all of this that is over ham-fistingly delivered through a specially designed 90s-style pop-metal song called, “Conformity.”
I kept looking for deeper meaning in the rather short 19 min directorial debut from actor Natalie Morales (Santa Clarita Diet, Dead to Me, Parks and Recreation, many others), but I am just not seeing the connection between marching to the beat of your own drum and alienating yourself from the only friends you’ve ever felt close to by by absorbing them into a rather narcissistic plot device. Yes, you see, dear viewers, instead of the friends just having their skin melted when they touch the possibly acidic frothy bubbles or have their clothing dissolved into nothing by the seemingly innocent foam, they actually begin to physically turn into Jack – peroxide-tips included.
I guess you could compare this to the Donkey scene in Pinocchio, where all of the misbehaving boys are magically transformed into lookalike animals and shipped to an island to punish them for being non-conformists, but I am not sure that is what the script by Bryan Poyser is going for.
Instead, the foam seems to be an extension of Jack’s needy and unlikable personality. Is the foam symbolic of his lack of identity and originality? Since the episode is so stark and succinct, we don’t get much character development or explanation as to how the foam works or what its intent really is. We see a fun shot of severed arms being thrown about over the waves of the foam at one point, but we are never sure if the foam is eating the characters, absorbing them, dissolving them, or just teleporting them to a much more fun party not in a cheap motel room.
It is sort-of revealed that the foam is only here b/c of Jack, who might have summoned it from the bottom of his superficial soul. He is presented as the sort of peroxide-tip-haired, 90s-rocker-boy cliche who is trying to hard to have friends since he has no real depth or interesting personality. He has to over-compensate for his lack of being compelling by acting like something as superficial and silly as foam is the glue that binds all of his friends together harmoniously. As if they would all abandon him if he didn’t rely on trends to make himself look more interesting than he actually is. The foam really is a part of Jack when it re-congeals and forces Jack to absorb it back into himself. It’s like Jack is the villain and victim in his own sadistic party all at once, like a psychic vampire in disguise ready to absorb the likable impersonates of everyone around him. By the time he awakes, he seems to have no memory of what he caused, except when he sees Morgan’s university ID and doesn’t seem the realize the potential love that he, himself, probably snuffed out.
So, does this rather short campy horror homage have a deeper point, or is it all surface-level pontificating? If you listen to the lyrics to the “Conformity” song, you realize that it references and criticizes exactly what we are being shown in the episode, from Bacardi, to foam parties in general. I guess it is meant to be it form of dramatic irony, that we should not enjoy the superficial pleasures we are being sold as fulfilling fun and excitement, since all that we are left with in the morning is regret and a big mess we can’t clean up on our own.
In films of that era, they were always hawking new hit music of corporate-approved “alternative” bands that preached rebellion and finding your own voice in a world of cootie-cutter sameness, yet never actually embodied any of it, most of whom didn’t have careers past their one-hit wonder status. I suppose this is what happened in the 90s and continues to this day with young adults. They got sold the idea of non-conformity and rebellion as this great rite of passage to embrace when you’re young and finding your own way in life. Then, it became a com-modified shadow of its former self when it became mainstream and commercial; something to sell to the youth as stickers and tattoos rather than it be something of substance they felt and experienced on their own. The punk scene of the 70s and 80s gave birth to the goth and grunge scene, which became the ska and EDM scenes, then became the bubblegum pop and nu-metal scene, before metastasizing into the emo and dubstep scenes with Kpop to follow, etc. Kids still worship alternative and hip hop bands before their time without realizing what made them so revolutionary in the first place. It’s all a part of the shiny, glossy commercial cultural surface now. One touch and you’ll get sucked into oblivion.
Maybe it was better to have become a donkey.