The Oscars are around the corner and we are getting inundated with most of the top films of the past year that are vying for awards. And in Room, one of the early contenders for the Oscars, we have a film that really does pull its awards-worthy weight and show why it has been considered one of the best films of 2015 – and even more why Brie Larson is arguably the favoured lead actress candidate to walk away with the gold this year.
Based on the award winning novel of the same name, Room is about a young woman named Joy (Brie Larson), who has been held captive in a small room – later revealed to be a garden shed – that has no exposure to the outside world other than through a small skylight in the roof. Joy lives in this claustrophobic world with her 5 year-old son Jack (Jacob Tremblay) who was born during her stay, a product of the repeated rapes she’s endured from her mysterious and violent captor, and whom she tries to raise as innocently as possible, sheltering him from the horrors of the situation they actually find themselves in.
She is able to do this by telling him that the Room they live in is actually all that there is in their world and that what they see on the TV is actually being broadcast by other planets. Their captor, known only as Old Nick (Sean Bridgers), is a man who appears almost magically with food and other items. In her efforts to maintain Jack’s innocence, Joy tries to prevent him from interacting with Old Nick as much as possible, getting Jack to stay in a closet whenever he is around.
But after one more beating too many, Joy decides that a change in strategy with her son is required and that he is the only way she is going to escape to freedom. Slowly she is able to convince her son that there is a bigger world outside of their small room and she devises a cunning plan which miraculously leads to their eventual escape.
However, now that she and Jack have been freed from captivity, it’s not all over, as they now need to adjust to a world that she has not seen for seven years – and in Jack’s case, never seen – and this comes with its own emotion turmoil and difficulties. Joy’s relationship with her now divorced parents is a particular strain on her, as are all her old friends whom she has lost touch with in the intervening years.
Room is a sincere story about the gruelling impact that years in captivity can have on a person and it really is a grueling topic that is creativity explored by the director. The story by Emma Donahue (who wrote both the original book and adapted the screenplay) is quite a harrowing one, but is well told from the perspective of the boy and his relationship with his mother. It never feels as haunting as it probably should, yet still packs enough emotional weight to not gloss over what the characters are going through.
Donahue’s script is tightly controlled and doesn’t try to explore every avenue or path, but remains focused on the bond of mother and child and ensures that you seldom get distracted by other things. You could argue that there is more that could’ve been added, but I’m grateful it didn’t as it never pulls the spotlight away from the most important elements of the story. Some issues with the way Joy deals with the world do feel a little loose, but it doesn’t take away from the power of the story told.
The key to this story being so well executed is the crafty and playful direction by Lenny Abrahamson (more known for obscure Irish films like Garage, What Richard Did), who many felt was unfairly nominated for an Oscar ahead of Ridley Scott and his work for The Martian. After having experienced this movie myself though I feel his nomination is completely justified.What Abrahamson has been able to craft is quite incredible. His use of clever camera angles at the start of the film makes the room feel a lot bigger than it really is and how he is able to recreate the excitement and innocence of a child and tell such a powerful story from that perspective is remarkable.
And that’s not to say the material is watered down in anyway – it is probably even more powerful and emotive for it and really helps to describe the relationship between mother and child and their will to survive and close bond with each other. Shocking the audience is definitely not the intention in this film and the telling of the story takes its deserved place as the focus of the film. Abrahamson never forgets that and builds his scenes around Joy and Jack and his camerawork suitably explores their thoughts and emotions
Abrahamson also bring out the best in his cast, which is brilliantly led by Larson, who makes a potential career-defining turn in this film. She really handles the complex material exceptionally well and always comes across as emotionally believable, while portraying characteristics of calm, desperation and turmoil equally well. Her chemistry with the 9-year old Jacob Tremblay also really stands out, as he shows a maturity beyond his years in playing the role of Jack and the interaction between the two leads makes the story all the more convincing. The supporting cast of Joan Allen, William H Macy and Tom McCamus also all play their roles well, though the emotional weight of their material is much lower than that of Brie and Tremblay.
The largely piano driven score by Stephen Rennicks is quite powerful as well, without becoming too over-bearing and is equally playful and fun, as it also focuses on the perspective of the child and mother and switching between their emotions effectively. Danny Cohen as the cinematographer also changes things up, giving Room a lot of light and bubbliness, but making the tone seem darker when the moods of the film change.
The film is also well-paced and although it is a story of two halves, one in the Room and then one outside the room, it never feels unbalanced. You feel for its characters and remain interested throughout. That I found myself feeling quite tense during the escape scene or deeply satisfied at many of Jack’s first explorations of his world, highlights how the different components of the film all fit well together. The films conclusion is a little dragged out at the end, but its closing scene is especially poignant.
Overall, Room is a really meaty movie that deals with an intense topic, but one that is told so well that you are never overwhelmed by it, but are left hopeful and happy at the film’s conclusion. It is a film I would certainly recommend viewing and is a stand-out amongst the films released over the past year. It deserved its Oscar nominations and also a room in your schedule to view it.
Last Updated: February 23, 2016