Golden Globe winner Brie Larson (Short Term 12) gives the performance of a lifetime in this dark, disturbing and emotionally affecting psychological drama that is also one of the films of the year.
Larson plays Joy Newsome (though known to her son only as Ma), a woman who has been held prisoner for seven years in a small 10 by 10m room by an abusive captor known only as Old Nick (played by a slimy Sean Bridger, from The Woman). Continually raped by Old Nick, Joy gave birth to a young boy she named Jack (Jacob Tremblay). She has tried to shelter Jack from the harsh realities of their predicament by telling him stories and trying to live as normal a life as circumstances allow. For Jack this is the only home he has known, and every morning his waking ritual includes greeting every object.
But now Jack has just celebrated his fifth birthday and his curiosity about the room cannot be contained. In desperation, Joy hatches a daring plan to escape. But then Jack faces an awkward adjustment as he struggles to adjust to the strange, terrifying new world he encounters. Much of the events are seen from Jack’s perspective, which gives us a more naive and innocent world view.
Room is a tight and taut film that unfolds in two distinct and tonally different parts. The first part, which is set entirely inside the cramped 10m sq space is quite claustrophobic, and cinematographer Danny Cohen (who was responsible for the superb visual style and glossy surface for the recent The Danish Girl) works in close-up that makes the confines seem oppressive. When the drama moves to the outside world though it is quite confronting in a different way and Cohen often shoots these scenes from unusual angles to make them seem more confusing and terrifying.
The film is based on the novel written by Emma Donoghue, who also wrote the script, and is a story of love, isolation, fear, courage, resilience, hope, family and that strong bond between a mother and her son. Despite the depressing sounding scenario, this is actually a life affirming film about the human spirit and how it can endure challenges. It offers a strong counterpoint to the chilling Austrian film Michael and some real life cases about kidnap victims who were kept prisoner for years, such as Elizabeth Fritzl.
The director is Lenny Abrahamson, who previously gave us the quirky offbeat comedy Frank, which featured Michael Fassbender as an enigmatic musician who hid his face beneath an oversized paper mache mask. Abrahamson, who also directed the low budget Irish drama What Richard Did, suffuses the film with a hard edged grain of truth. His direction is sensitive and compassionate.
Larson, better known for her television work, brings a stoic resilience to her performance, but she also captures her vulnerability and pain, and desperation. Equally impressive is young Tremblay (who voiced the character of Blue in The Smurfs 2) in his first major film role, who delivers one of the most affecting, emotionally resonant and intelligent performances from a child actor in recent memory. There is a strong and palpable chemistry between Larson and Tremblay and the dynamic between the two adds to the emotional weight of the film.
There is also strong support from Joan Allen, who is sympathetic and compassionate as Jack’s grandmother, while William H Macy is also solid in a smaller role as Jack’s cold and distant grandfather who struggles to cope with the situation.
Director: Lenny Abrahamson
Cast: Brie Larson, Jacob Tremblay, Joan Allen, William H. Macy
Release Date: 28 January 2016
Rating: M – Mature themes and coarse language
David Edwards is the editor of The Blurb and a contributor on film and television