Film Review – Room (2015)

Room

Brilliant performances command this unnerving and claustrophobic drama, directed by Lenny Abrahamson.

Room is the screen adaptation of Emma Donoghue’s 2010 novel of the same name and follows the story of a young woman (Brie Larson), who has been snatched and held captive for years by a mysterious and demented abuser (the tale is perhaps strongly influenced by the infamous Josef Fritzl case). Larson’s character, and her five-year old son Jack (Jacob Tremblay), are forced to live in squalid conditions in what can only be described as a nuclear bunker in the man’s back garden, equipped with soundproof walls and a steel door with an electronic key code.

The film, in a way, is divided into three segments; the first third plays out almost like a horror film, it is a tense, claustrophobic representation of the mother and son’s time in ‘room’ (as Jack aptly calls the far-from-adequate living conditions). The man arrives every Sunday with basic living requirements or ‘Sunday treats’ as Jack innocently calls them, and he effectively rapes Jack’s mother almost every night whilst he lies restlessly in the wardrobe. It is a disturbing and unnerving opening thirty minutes, but permeating through it is Jack’s childlike innocence. This is the only world he has ever known, so ‘room’, through his eyes, is a magical kingdom, to him, the people on TV are fictitious and magical, and the man brings his Sunday ‘treats’ from within this magical world of TV.

The second segment begins with Larson’s character’s realization that she must escape the squalid confinements of her prison, or at least get her son out so that he can have a future outside of the only four walls he has known. And so begins their meticulously planned escape; it is an incredibly tense and suspenseful part of the film that is equally beautiful and uplifting as Jack sees and feels the world around him for the first time. It is also the first time in which I cried at the film, that is, first of two times.

The third and final chapter of the film surprisingly returns to the themes of the first as director Abrahamson begins to deal with the psychological repercussions of being held captive for seven years. Larson’s mother is both mentally and physically damaged as she is hounded by the press and asked unbelievably inappropriate questions by a talk show host on prime time television (questions that would surely never actually be asked in real life).

At the heart of the film are the wonderful performances of both Brie Larson and Jacob Tremblay. It is by far the best performance by a child that I have ever seen (Tremblay was only 7 during filming); it’s a performance nothing short of outstanding. Abrahamson’s camera is always firmly placed either on Jack, or placed from his point of view, as his eyes, and thus the camera struggle to adapt to the bright lights and sounds of a new, undiscovered world. However, it’s Brie Larson that is the film’s shining light; she is staggeringly good as the tormented yet strong willed mother. It’s no wonder she recently won a Golden Globe for her performance, and is certainly in with a big chance at the Oscars, albeit against strong competition.

The subject matter of Room is dark and disturbing, and at times, it threatens to be unenjoyable, but it is the glimmers of hope and the undeniably powerful mother and son bond that stops this from ever happening, and turns Room into a contemporary masterpiece.

★★★★1/2
Josh Hall

Drama | Ireland/Canada, 2015 | 15 | Studiocanal UK | 15th January 2016 (UK) |Dir.Lenny Abrahamson |Jacob Tremblay, Brie Larson, Joan Allen, William H. Macy, Cas Anvar, Sean Bridgers