Starring: Brie Larson, Jacob Tremblay, Joan Allen
After being held captive for many years in a garden shed in which her five year old son Jack (Tremblay) has spent his entire life living in with her, Joy (Larson) finally comes up with a plan for them to escape their captor. Once they have escaped, Jack must now learn about the real world as he experiences it for the very first time.
In terms of its initial premise, Room is as dark as they come, but yet though Lenny Abrahamson’s suitably restrained approach undoubtedly provides a deeply affecting and emotionally engaging drama, it does seem to lack an ultimate conviction in the many themes it tries to take on and it does feel like it could have gone at least a little bit further.
I, like many others, have not read the book and have no idea what has been included and left out from the source material by original novelist Emma Donoghue in her screenplay (and of course how much free license she has been ultimately given), but the approach of the film is to basically tell the story from the point of view of Jack, with him being in every scene. This is very effective while the film takes place in ‘Room’, as some the juxtaposition of childlike naivety (extreme naivety in this case) and the reality of what is happening to the child’s mother create a truly unnerving experience. The scenes that take place in ‘Room’ are superbly done, with both Brie Larson and Jacob Tremblay being incredible and Abrahamson’s almost suffocating camerawork perfectly capturing the repressive atmosphere in every shot. When done well understatement and restrained can be very affective and unnerving, and Abrahamson excels at this.
However Abrahamson makes his first mistake (in my opinion) by showing us Old Nick, Joy and Jack’s captor, and though Sean Bridgers is suitably intense, the fact we see him does just take away something from what could have been a mysterious, and therefore more imposing and scary character. The fact that Joy and Jack escape ‘Room’ is of course no spoiler, but after this point the film seems to just lose its way a little too much. Of course the attempt to tell the film from the point of view of Adam is a good and potentially effective idea, and though this does allow for a few narrative contrivances and liberties to be taken, the film just takes a few too many. If Room were not based on a novel then it would truly feel like they made the film up as they went along as it seems to take on too many ideas and themes, and never truly sees many of them through.
Perhaps it takes being a parent to truly understand the relationship between mother and son, which is of course the narrative’s focal point, but if those without children like myself are not truly gripped by the film’s second half then I personally see that as the fault of screenwriter and director, not myself. There is no escaping the fact that despite the exceptional performances from Brie Larson (an Oscar win would be thoroughly deserved) and Jacob Tremblay, the second half of the narrative lacks focus. However, despite these narrative flaws, Room does still emerge as an emotionally involving film with a particularly well made first half, but what truly makes it so engaging are the two incredible central performances which undoubtedly elevate the material that sometimes lacks firm direction.
With two exceptional lead performances Room is undoubtedly an emotionally engaging film, but it is just a shame that the second half cannot compete with the extremely high standards of the exceptionally put together first. Despite its admirable ambition, Room ultimately fails to deliver completely on its premise, but it still emerges as a deeply affecting film.