Based on the book of the same name by Emma Donoghue, Room centres on a mother and son locked in a soundproofed garden shed against their will, with no hope of release. With a plot description like that, there will naturally be a certain expectation going into this film. One of a bleak nature; whereby the story is focused on the abusive captor, and relentless negativity surrounding their situation. The heartstrings will be pulled excessively, expecting and urging the audience to cry an abnormal amount and the end result being a film classified as an ‘emotional rollercoaster’.
Some of that is true, but how it gets there is a little bit different.
Instead, Room lends itself to a certain kind of optimism. Shown primarily and also narrated from the kids’ perspective, there is an innocence to the proceedings and a hope that is unusual to find in these types of stories. Looking at films like Michael or An American Crime shows just how disturbing films of this nature can be, and a glance over the real life cases of Ariel Castro and Josef Fritzl will quickly tell you why they have every right to be that mortifying.
Jacob Tremblay is absolutely sensational as 5 year old Jack, living in the only place he’s ever lived, ‘Room’. It is his entire world because there is no outside, and outside is outer space. The TV channels are planets, animals are fictional and ‘Room’ is their home. An unfortunate set of circumstances create an interesting character study in what would be like if brought up completely devoid of outside interferences, remaining on a relatively ‘normal’ path as opposed to the absurd yet disturbing Dogtooth. Navigating him through this confusion is his mother, Joy. Setting the bar even higher after Short Term 12, Brie Larson shines as the strong-willed and determined abductee whose only reason to live is shown in the son she now takes care of.
The details of how this situation came about are gradually eased in, and we are left to form assumptions for the first half of the film until Joy explains the full story to young Jack. If it hadn’t already, everything will fall into place and the hopeful optimism that once was is replaced with a sense of desperation and sadness. What follows is given away in the trailer, but I will refrain from describing the actual event here.
The second half of Room is extremely clever. It challenges common perceptions of this scenario, and shines a light on factors we do not often get to see or hear about. Our understanding of what it must be like to go through that experience will never be on the same level as someone who has actually gone through it, but this film gives us a very good idea. Despite the unforgiving subject matter, it becomes a story of love between a mother and son, and while the mother deals with the ongoing trauma, for Jack it continues to be a positive coming of age story.
Lenny Abrahamson has done a brilliant job in commanding the two leads, who have thrown themselves into these roles. Upon watching Room you would struggle to think of two more perfectly suited individuals to take Larson and Tremblay’s places. In casting so brilliantly, with worthy mentions to the supporting cast (Joan Allen in particular), there is a genuine empathy conveyed when watching. The tears flowing from the audience come naturally rather than through contrived melodrama. Quite often the most touching moments are when our pair are closest, when Jack is the most innocent and when his curiosity manifests itself into wide-eyed delight.
Room has awards written all over it, and deservedly so. An inspirational story of an inseparable bond between a mother and son against the odds. A disgusting, horrifying situation made into an intriguing, somewhat uplifting story of resolution reinforced through the eyes of a curious child. It hits you right in feels, multiple times, but never cheapens the seriousness of what has happened to those real victims alive today.