UK Release Date: 9th May 2016
Runtime: 118 minutes
Director: Lenny Abrahamson
Writer: Emma Donoghue
Starring: Brie Larson, Jacob Tremblay, Joan Allen, William H Macy, Sean Bridgers, Tom McCamus
Synopsis: A kidnapped woman trapped in an enclosed room with her five-year-old son makes a daring bid for freedom and must then adjust to life in the outside world.
Earlier this year, Room made a real impact on me and many others. Lenny Abrahamson‘s hard-edged, but surprisingly uplifting drama was a major player during Oscar season, winning the Best Actress prize for star Brie Larson. It was a film that made an impression and marked Abrahamson, previously best known for oddball dramedy Frank, as a real director to watch on the indie film scene. A few months on, Room is now arriving on Blu-ray and DVD. In the intervening time, it has lost none of its raw emotional power and storytelling mastery.
Ma (Larson) lives in the enclosed world of “room” with her son Jack (Jacob Tremblay). It is revealed that Ma is being imprisoned and raped by Old Nick (Sean Bridgers), who is Jack’s biological father. Ma decides to reveal the truth about the world to Jack and they mount a brave escape plan. In the outside, they must adjust to the sheer size of the world around them and the changed dynamics between Ma’s parents (Joan Allen and William H Macy).
It’s striking just how much of a punch Room packs, even on a second viewing. Knowing the outcome does nothing to dilute the horror of the characters’ first act predicament, the nail-biting tension of their escape or the off-kilter awkwardness of their reintegration into the real world. This success is a testament to Emma Donoghue’s script and Abrahamson’s tightly controlled direction. Donoghue adapts her own book with real flair, maintaining plentiful character moments and amplifying the more cinematic aspects of the story.
At the centre of Room‘s success is the masterful decision to allow the story to play out entirely from the perspective of Jacob Tremblay’s innocent child. On paper, this shields the audience from the true horror of what is happening to Ma, but it actually has the effect of allowing the viewer to imagine, which is so much worse. This shifted perspective also adds a further layer to the final act, in which the simplicity of Jack’s integration provides a stark counterpoint to Ma’s difficulties readjusting to what’s out there and how her life has been changed entirely by her kidnapping.
None of this would work, of course, without the pair of excellent central performances. Jacob Tremblay is an absolute revelation of a young performer, bringing mature nuances to a character who could easily have been a one-note caricature of innocence. His facial expressions are controlled in a way that few young performers can produce and he knows exactly which buttons to press to get the right reaction from the audience. His chemistry with Brie Larson is remarkable and it would be impossible to argue that Larson didn’t merit her Best Actress prize. Larson gets a great deal of complexity to convey with limited final act screen time, but does an excellent job of telling the story with physicality – whether it’s empty, exhausted eyes or the posture of a woman struggling to return to reality.
Abrahamson, meanwhile, makes the most of the tight geography of “room” to create a believable world, albeit one warped slightly by its presentation through the eyes of Tremblay’s character. He brilliantly teases out the tension of their predicament, culminating in the escape, which is a genuinely masterful sequence of filmmaking that compares favourably to just about every cinematic moment of the last few years. Freed from the constraints of that location, Abrahamson still manages to maintain that control to convey the isolation of Ma and Jack’s boundary-free journey of exploration. In the final moments, the story is tied together in a scene of impressive simplicity that provides a real groundswell of life-affirming humanity as a counter-balance to the darkness of the early scenes.
Room is an emotionally mature tale that uses the prism of innocence to cast an innovative new look at a story that has certainly been told on the big screen before. Abrahamson and Donoghue are a formidable filmmaking duo, matched only by the intense, natural chemistry between the film’s two central performers. This is cinema at its purest, imbuing a simple story with visual flair in spades and smart scripting.
The extras on Room are quite sparse, but there are a couple of featurettes and a commentary with director Lenny Abrahamson. The feature is, of course, the main attraction on this disc.
Pop or Poop?
Even months after it first hit cinemas, Room is a film that puts its audience through the emotional wringer, only to provide a surprise emotional catharsis in its climactic moments. It’s a film that confirms Brie Larson as an exciting practitioner of her craft and could make stars of young starlet Jacob Tremblay and his director. It may not have exactly cleaned up when the awards were handed out, but it’s a movie that’s going to resonate for a very long time.
Do you agree with my review? Let me know in the comments section.
Room is available on Blu-ray from today courtesy of Studiocanal.