This is a moving, wonderful film, led by a flawless performance from Brie Larson.
It’s rare to find a film that is as harrowing and distressing as this one is, while at the same time having every scene, every moment, layered with wonder, and happiness, and hope. Room is a spectacular piece of filmmaking, slow and careful, subtle and reserved, and yet possessing towering emotional power. It doesn’t so much grip you as it does hold your gaze still and quiet while it’s story plays out.
The film, based on the novel of the same name by Emma Donoghue, follows Joy (Brie Larson), a woman held captive in a single room for seven years, and her five-year-old son, Jack (Jacob Tremblay). The story would be moving enough as it is, but is elevated to a completely different level through the fact that the whole thing is told from Jack’s perspective. He narrates, explaining his world, which consists entirely of ‘Room’ – the room in which he lives. TO him, everything else – dogs, trees, other people – is not real; they are all ‘TV’.
The effect of this is fantastic. Director Lenny Abrahamson shows us all the horrific things that happen, or have happened, without feeling the need to linger on them, or fetishise their awfulness. The film isn’t really about those things, as it would be were the story told in a more conventional way. It’s about Jack, Jack’s development, Jack coming to understand a world that for his whole life he thought wasn’t real. The film doesn’t really peak or build or act like you would expect it to – it rotates around moments that would otherwise be overlooked. The film’s power, moments where the emotion that runs under the surface breaks for an instant before retreating again, are moments seemingly unremarkable.
Tremblay is spectacular as Jack, giving one of the best child performances for a long, long time. Without his childishness, his innocence, and his slowly changing performance, the film would fall flat. Abrahamson takes the risk again and again of hinging pivotal moments of the film not just on Tremblay, but on just Tremblay’s face and his reactions, and every time the child actor delivers.
As well as Tremblay is the film’s star, Brie Larson, who’s turn as Joy is astoundingly good. She acts as a counterweight to the childishness of the film, giving it a mature emotional foundation. If the film would suffer for the loss of Tremblay, it would barely exist without Larson. The nuance and subtlety she brings to the role, especially given her inexperience, is masterful. There’s no chewing of the scenery; moments that others would deliver with screaming, flailing passion receive from Larson barely more than a twitch of the lips, or a flicker of the eyes, and yet are imbued with staggering power. She isn’t just Oscar worthy here, she is flawless.
Room is a brilliant film. It’s the kind of film that, when it finishes, leaves you sat still in your seat, unable to move for the sheer volume of feeling that it has stirred up. It’s not so much an “I cried at the end” kind of film as it is a “there are no tears left, and I want to go outside and hug everybody” kind.
Room (2015), directed by Lenny Abrahamson, is distributed in the UK by StudioCanal. Certificate 15.