UK Release Date: 15th January 2016
Runtime: 118 minutes
Director: Lenny Abrahamson
Writer: Emma Donoghue
Starring: Brie Larson, Jacob Tremblay, Joan Allen, William H Macy, Tom McCamus, Sean Bridgers
Synopsis: A woman, imprisoned by the man who kidnapped her years before, tries to open her young son’s eyes to the world outside of their predicament.
This year’s awards season is unique in that, for the first time in a long while, there is an embarrassment of riches in the Best Actress category, with five excellent performances fighting for the gong at the Oscars. The arguable frontrunner is Brie Larson, who has attracted major plaudits for her work in Room – which is a unique tale that mixes harrowing subject matter with an uplifting lust for life.
Ma (Larson) and her son Jack (Jacob Tremblay) live alone in “room”, with no means of escape. Ma is visited every night by her abusive captor Old Nick (Sean Bridgers), who is Jack’s biological father. On Jack’s fifth birthday, Ma decides that the time is right to let her naive son know that there’s more to the world than “room” and she begins to plan an escape.
Room is an absolutely devastating film, in every sense of the word. Emma Donoghue, adapting her own book for the big screen, wisely makes the decision to focus the story not on Ma but on Jack, who is played with tremendous maturity by nine-year-old Jacob Tremblay. This minor perspective shift turns the story into something truly unique, away from the tropes of the kidnap film and into the wonderful world of childlike innocence. For Jack, “room” is the entire world. He has no idea of the true horror of the situation.
| “When I was small, I only knew small things. But now I’m five, I know everything.”
Tremblay’s performance is one of quite remarkable complexity for an actor of his age. He perfectly embodies the unusual naivete of a child who believes that the entire universe exists within the confines of a garden shed. Tremblay’s work is both completely alien and entirely recognisable as the way in which children rationalise the world around them. It’s this childlike innocence that makes Tremblay such a compelling character to root for, which helps to crank up the tension to unbearable levels as the plot of Room moves forward. The escape scene at the film’s halfway point is a white-knuckle sequence of the scale that few films in recent memory have managed.
The ingenious use of perspective shields the audience from the explicit nature of the characters’ predicament, but it never feels as if Room is manipulative or whitewashed. The horrors are there, but the fact they are occurring just outside of the audience’s reach only serves to make them more heartbreaking. It’s this that allows director Lenny Abrahamson to bring true potency to the story. By not wallowing in the unimaginable cruelty of the story, Abrahamson makes both Ma and Jack recognisable and, crucially, sympathetic.
Alongside Tremblay, Brie Larson does equally subtle work as Ma. Unlike her son, she has experience of the outside world, but has indulged in a fantasy in order to protect him from the horror of their predicament. Larson’s frazzled appearance betrays a woman experiencing something terrifying, but exhausted from the effort of concealing her suffering for the sake of her son.
This complexity really comes to the fore in the second half of Room, which sees the complex emotional turmoil of Ma play out in the background as Jack’s exploration of a new world becomes the film’s focus. This choice allows the film to maintain an unusual tonal balance between its depiction of troubling material and the uplifting, innocent eyes through which we see the events as they occur. Room could easily have been grief porn, but it instead chooses a far more interesting path.
| “The world’s like all TV planets on at the same time, so I don’t know which way to look and listen.”
Room is a complex, emotionally satisfying film that benefits from a handful of excellent narrative choices, ported over from the original book. It never veers towards sensationalism, despite the ease with which that could have happened, and also resists the urge to wallow in grimness. It’s true that Room has moments of intense peril and turmoil, but it’s a film that ultimately emerges with its head optimistically in the clouds.
Pop or Poop?
With a pair of intense, powerful central performances and direction that maximises the best aspects of the story, Room deserves its place in amongst the year’s top awards contenders. Lenny Abrahamson never allows the story’s darkness to overtake its core focus, which is squarely on the relationship between a mother and a son – a relationship that can endure just about anything.
Do you agree with my review? Let me know in the comments section.