Room (2015)

Love knows no boundaries

If you’ve had the good fortune of avoiding Room’s spoiler-laden trailers then I’d urge you to stop reading at once (or at least skip to the final paragraph for a general consensus) as it’s best to approach the material without knowing too much about it. For those who want to keep on reading, Room is based on the bestselling novel of the same name by Irish-Canadian author Emma Donoghue which was inspired by the real-life case of Austrian abuser Josef Fritzl, who imprisoned (and raped) his daughter in a basement for over twenty-four-years, the abuse resulting in seven children, some of which were kept in captivity while others were raised by Josef and his wife Rosemarie, having been reported as foundlings.

In terms of its basic plotline, Room sounds a little like a horror film — a 17-year-old girl is abducted and held captive inside of a solitary 10-by-10-foot space for seven years. Despite its harrowing premise however, Room is a stirring experience that touches on themes of confinement, liberation, solitude and one’s programmed perception of the world around them. It’s also an inspiring celebration of the boundless love between a mother and her son, highlighting the unyielding power of human fortitude.

Egg-shell-ent Work!
Egg-shell-ent Work!

When the film opens we’re introduced to Jack (Jacob Tremblay in an extraordinary breakout performance), a rambunctious 5-year-old boy who’s being looked after by his caring mother Joy Newsome, whom he calls ‘Ma’ (Brie Larson). Like any good mum, Ma dedicates every waking hour of her day towards Jack, keeping him cheerful and content while nurturing him with warmth and love — the pair plays make-believe, they build things and muck about. Their life, on the other hand, is anything but normal, as they are trapped inside of a windowless space (an electronically operated shed with a skylight) that Ma has fittingly named ‘Room.’ With the mere resources inside, Ma has created a whole universe for Jack to ensure that, even in the midst of their bleak, cold environment, he is still able to live a complete and fulfilling life. You see, over the past five years, Ma has lead Jack to believe that Room is the entire world with everything else only existing on television (which Jack watches daily). But as Jack’s curiosity increases, Ma’s resilience reaches its breaking point, leading the pair to devise a risky escape plan, a scheme that ultimately brings them face-to-face with what may turn out to be their most frightening challenge yet: facing the real world.

In essence, Room basically consists of two distinct parts. The first is somewhat grim as it forces viewers to sit through a series of cruel, intolerable acts before its emotional framework begins to take shape. During this portion, director Lenny Abrahamson, Frank (2014), working from an adapted screenplay by novelist Donoghue, builds unbearable tension while establishing a tender bond between leads Brie Larson, Short Term 12 (2013), and Jacob Tremblay, The Smurfs 2 (2013). Abrahamson couldn’t have asked for a better pairing here with the up-and-coming Larson bringing a real depth and honesty to her character and the remarkable Tremblay (who never appears as though he’s acting) exhibiting a natural child-like-innocence, the duo fashioning a primal, believable union that truly sells the film, keeping it frighteningly real yet immensely heartbreaking. Not much is known about their captor Old Nick (Sean Bridgers) who basically shows up at night, where he forces himself upon Joy and brings his hostages some much-needed supplies. In addition, the single location setting paves the way for some powerful moments between Ma, Jack and even Old Nick.

Ma's trying to get into Jack's good books.
Ma’s trying to get into Jack’s good books.

When the picture shifts to the outside world, its scope expands and Room becomes something entirely different, with both Joy and Jack confronting a scary new reality (outside of their incarceration) as they attempt to adapt to a new normality; Joy, who was robbed of her young adult life when she was taken, finds it particularly hard to re-adapt. By the same token, Jack’s whole world is undone, his developing mind presented with a plethora of astounding new unknowns (Jack has never felt the wind in his hair nor rain on his face). Thankfully Jack embraces this ‘expanded’ universe in a much more positive light than his mother, making some very human connections for the first time in his life, one being with his grandmother Nancy (a wonderful Joan Allen), who, in the wake of the trauma, has remarried a kind-hearted man named Leo (Tom McCamus). Scenes with Allen and Tremblay are emotional and truthful, their sincere interaction selling their family bond. William H. Macy, Fargo (1996), does a solid job in his small role too as Joy’s dad Robert, Macy rendering the character’s confusion and shock perfectly, particularly his revelation that he now has a grandson.

Furthermore, the amazing cinematography by Danny Cohen, The King’s Speech (2010), should truly be commended, predominantly Cohen’s ability to present the titular ‘room’ as a large, comfortable and familiar wonderland when viewed through Jack’s eyes. When switching to Joy’s viewpoint however, Cohen skillfully skews the atmosphere, transforming the space into an oppressive hell each time Old Nick enters. It’s only when we return to the foreboding location in the flick’s final act that we see the area objectively, as the small concrete box that it was — Cohen emphasizing its tininess.

Life in a hammock. It rocks.
Life in a hammock. It rocks.

Room only falters (ever so slightly) when it comes to the pacing. The film’s initial half moves at a taut, tight speed, allowing viewers to process the situation then get into the character’s headspace, while its latter portion shifts gears, skimming a lot of the psychology behind its central ideas of isolation and renewal, both captors processing things differently once freed — how does the saying go again, ‘it’s one thing to be free yet another to actually feel free.’ While Jack’s wide-eyed revelations are uplifting, I could’ve spent more time with Joy and her painful transition back to reality (I get that filmmakers were trying to keep the picture peppy and up beat, but still). Granted, Room never attempts to offer easy answers to any of its tough questions.

In any case, don’t let me sell this thing short, as Room is an astonishing story about sacrifice, heartache and love, one that deserves all the recognition it’s so rightly receiving. Superbly written, fearlessly acted and expertly handled, Room is anything but an ordeal. Bare in mind, this one will stay with you for a very long time!

4.5 / 5 – Highly Recommended

Reviewed by Mr. Movie

Room is released through Roadshow Entertainment Australia