Lenny Abrahamson’s adaption of Emma Donoghue’s novel, Room, is a heart-wrenching and certainly stressful tale of the kidnapping and captivity of “Ma” (Brie Larson), a girl abducted by ‘Old Nick’ (Sean Bridges) and held prisoner in his garden shed for 7 years when the film begins. Her character is an amalgamation of two Austrian kidnapping cases; that of Natascha Kampusch, abducted at the age of 10 and the more recent disturbing case of Josef Fritzl, who imprisoned his daughter Elizabeth in his basement for 24 years.
‘Ma’ lives with her son Jack (Jacob Tremblay) in a cell-like shed, completely at the mercy of Old Nick, whose periodic visits to bring supplies and to rape the woman shows the horror of her existence. All that stands in the way of her and Jack’s freedom is an electronic code on the door which only Nick knows. In complete desperation, Ma realises that the only chance of escape lies with her son Jack, and soon she hatches a plan.
But aside from the near-impossibility of success, Jack was born in the Room. In fact, he does not even know of a world existing beyond his immediate surroundings. He has grown up in a dingy four-walled universe; split into “Heaven”, “TV Planets” and the “Real Things”, and in his childlike acceptance assumes that the inexplicable in this world simply happens by “Magic”. The sense of claustrophobia but also child-like intrigue at the world, is created by Danny Cohen’s shaky handheld camera and wide angled lens, which never strays far from Jack as he takes us on a tour of his universe of egg-shell snakes and melted plastic spoons. This little boy with shoulder-length hair shows us that, once again, it is the human imagination and capacity to dream that saves the day. Jacob Tremblay gives an impressive performance in the film, offering emotional engagement throughout. The nine-year old appears unfazed by such a demanding role, which bodes well for his supporting role in the upcoming psychological thriller Shut In, set for release later this year.
“From nauseating despair to child-like serenity, the emotional turmoil that grips her face is captivating”
Ma and Jack’s relationship is touching; in a unique mother-son bond created from such a horrifying situation, from the start we understand that they depend on each other for emotional and physical strength. Traditional gender conventions seem to also have disappeared from the Room; out of society and out of the world that Ma grew up in, all that matters is that they are ‘real’. Ma creates the whole world for Jack inside, and their squalid cell becomes a reassuring sanctuary in a living nightmare. But for both of them, the price of freedom is coming to terms with the Room as a lie: soon the outside world is a source of paralysing fear.
Having already won a Golden Globe, Brie Larson’s powerful performance sees her also nominated for an Oscar. From nauseating despair to child-like serenity, the emotional turmoil that grips her face is captivating, and is undoubtedly one of the best performances of the year. Whilst Jack shows us around his universe inside the room, we follow Ma into the outside world, which is far from blissful. The family home with a hammock in the garden that she had dreamed of for the last seven years has long since disappeared, and she re-enters a complex family situation. Annoyingly Room leaves a loose-end with Grandpa’s (William H Macy) evasive relationship with his daughter and grandson. Actually the film is somewhat tentative and ambiguous in its ending also; it doesn’t give us an insight into what Ma and Jack’s lives are like beyond the ordeal of their captivity, but it seeks to delve into the problems faced by both of them upon re-entering the world.
Despite some grey areas in the plotline, never in Room are we allowed to relax into the drama that unfolds; in fact the film triumphs in the moments that shock us back into the horror of their reality. The suspense-drenched scene where Jack tries to escape and get help from passers-by is one of many moments where Room has us covering our eyes in anticipation. Despite this, given the revealing trailer it is clear that Room has not been marketed as a thriller. Instead, we follow Ma and Jack’s unique relationship as they continue to help each other, with dreams, stories and imagination through the difficulties they face. In spite of the slightly melodramatic score, jarring a little with the film’s astuteness in portraying a horrific ordeal, Emma Donoghue’s screenplay is minimalist in style but heartbreakingly earnest; the author’s own adaptation of her novel conveys the universe Ma has created for her son, in parallel to the life she knows they could be living. The result is a captivating story and I challenge you not to cry at least once.
In the midst of a nightmare, the Room is Ma’s reassuring sanctuary for Jack, and you will inevitably be absorbed into Lenny Abrahamson’s claustrophobic complexity.
Click here for more Film Reviews
Images sourced from Room, A24 Distributors.