If you remember the horror of the Joseph Fritzl case as it was slowly revealed on the news, you might be able to prepare yourself more for the central terror of Room. Having been locked in a soundproof shed for seven years by a man named Old Nick, Joy Newsome (Brie Larson) mothers a five year old child named Jack (Jacob Tremblay). So as to keep herself and her son optimistic, she creates her own stories about the rest of the world being on the television, and the only reality being that of “Room”. That is until Jack’s fifth birthday, when Joy decides to tell the truth about the situation they are in.
Lenny Abrahamson – after the amazing music dramedy Frank – and writer Emma Donoghue, adapting her own novel, don’t create a full on horror movie of this already harrowing subject matter. One could easily play up the tension and claustrophobia of the location (like Michael) or heighten the bizarre of the myths created by the mother (like Dogtooth). But it isn’t like either of those examples. The 10×10 room is filmed in wide but close to faces (similar to Hateful Eight in that respect, to less extremes) and the stories the mother tells are akin to fairytales (or, in the film’s own allusion, Alice in Wonderland). Both of these aspects reveal Room as the story is really is, which is a parable on paternal bonds and freedom.
That doesn’t mean to say the events that unfold are not horrifying or moving. On the contrary, they are all the more so because of those decisions, and because of the incredible strength of its lead performances. Brie Larson finally gets the ultimate showcase of her talents as Ma, expressing every loving gesture and every damage her imprisonment has caused her in just the lift of an eyebrow. For my money she is the front runner to win the Oscar this year (Sorry Cate!). But who should be on her side is her son, Jacob Tremblay, who is among the single best child actor’s I’ve seen on screen. As our point of view character, he manages to play every revelation without falling into mawkishness, and Tremblay and Abrahamson manage to give him as much complex emotions as any of the older leads.
Sometimes I was not sure whether I was moved by the filmmaking on display in Room, or just affected by the subject matter. This worry mainly revealed itself when my own illusion of Room broke. The soundtrack in particular layers it on syrupy think, emphasising emotions that were already pretty strong as it was. I’ll attempt not to spoil the events of the second half of the film, but as those unfold certain subplots and characters (particularly with William H Macy) get dropped on a whim.
But at the same time all that which is set up in that first half gets paid off, leading to an extremely cathartic and appropriate conclusion. In those final moments Abrahamson, Donoghue and the amazing leads show exactly all that could be gained from that “Room”, that world they found themselves.
And hey, I’ll tell you what, Room sure isn’t as funny as The Room, hey? Hahaha. Jokes. Funny jokes. We like to have fun around here.