Based on the best-selling novel of the same name by Emma Donoghue, 2015’s Room is a captivating and immensely well-crafted drama, guided by a pair of astonishing performances from Brie Larson and the young Jacob Tremblay. Simultaneously showcasing the best and worst of humanity, Room undoubtedly begins in a very dark place narrative-wise, but that doesn’t necessarily make it a bleak film, as Room is filled with just as many uplifting moments as it has sombre ones. Ultimately making for a harrowing yet equally rewarding piece of both filmmaking and storytelling.
Plot Summary: Held captive for seven years by a rapist, eventually giving birth to a baby boy. Joy Newsome, and her now five-year-old son, Jack, spend their days trapped inside a small room, this enclosed space being the only world Jack has ever known. Knowing that Jack’s growth has made their situation precarious, however, Joy, with the help of her son, orchestrates an escape plan in the hope that they can finally gain their freedom…
Maintaining the same narrative stance as the novel the film is based upon, much of Room‘s story is told from the perspective of Jack, with many of the plot points being childishly interpreted as the sheltered youngster can barely comprehend much of what he sees. By telling its story from the point of view of a child, the film is able to easily differentiate Jack’s distorted understanding of the world from the real world that lies just outside his view, all the while leaving the more unsettling aspects of the story, such as Joy’s abduction and subsequent sexual abuse, to be tastefully implied as opposed to occurring on-screen, as those events transpire out of Jack’s presence/eyesight.
Predominantly shot in chronological order to make it easier for the then-eight-year-old Jacob Tremblay to perform as his character matures. The pairing of Brie Larson and Tremblay as mother and son is no doubt one of the best elements of Room, as the pairs’ performances are astoundingly believable, with the development of their characters only furthering this sense of realism. To Jack, the ten-foot square room he and his mum live within is the entire world, where objects such as a table, a rug and a wardrobe are the only ones of their kind. Whereas for Joy (repeatedly referred to as “Ma” by her son), this room is her prison. A cell in which she has been kept for over seven years since she was kidnapped at seventeen by a man who has raped her countless times, ultimately fathering Jack. Yet, through sheer willpower and the love she harbours for her son, Joy keeps all these harsh truths to herself. And throughout the runtime, Larson turns in a tragically punishing performance to match this broken yet incredibly resilient character, finding courage from the need to protect her child from the enormity of their tormentor, only ever referred to as “Old Nick.” With that in mind, it’s not too much of a surprise that Larson later went on to win an Oscar for her performance in 2016.
Shot over a period of ten weeks, the first month of Room‘s production primarily took place inside a tiny set with immovable walls. As such, director Lenny Abrahamson (Adam & Paul, Frank, The Little Stranger) and his crew had to work entirely within the confines of the limited space. Nevertheless, the cinematography by Danny Cohen still manages to remarkably capture the innocent outlook of childhood, employing a number of low-angled close-ups in just the right shaft of light to illustrate how Jack finds enjoyment in his everyday life. Many of these shots also display the grubby surfaces and worn objects in the claustrophobic space Jack and his mother reside, reminding the audience that this sealed room is closer to a dungeon than an inviting family quarter.
Similar to the narrative itself, the original score by Stephen Rennicks is the perfect combination of beauty and trepidation, with some tracks, most notably; Opening, Mouse, In the World and New End, standing as beautiful piano-led pieces that bring a level of warm comfort. Whilst other tracks, like I’m Scared and Roll Up, are much more atmospheric and even somewhat unnerving. In many ways, these two types of tracks could be seen as representations of Jack and Joy, respectively, as the piano melodies are direct and naïve with very little room for movement, a.k.a. Jack. While the violin arrangements could be personified as Joy, being mature, tense and somewhat damaged.
In terms of its structure, Room is a film that is largely divided into two halves. And whilst I don’t want to reveal too much regarding how the plot develops, I will note that the film does lose some of the dramatic steam it builds up in the first half of its story due to a substantial change in the direction and tone of its latter half.
In summary, Room is undeniably a depressing and challenging viewing at points, but it’s also more sanguine in its storytelling than many may expect from a film with such a horrific setup. Through its tremendous performances, thoughtful use of visuals and detailed sets, Room is a terrific drama (and an effective thriller) that explores the uncomfortable topic of abduction from a unique perspective. Formulating a tear-jerking adaptation that occasionally makes too much room for melodrama, but is an expertly told tale, nonetheless. Rating: high 8/10.