“Room” Movie Review


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     Director Lenny Abrahamson’s “Room” is a film experience that invokes a number of authentic emotions each and every audience member will in some way relate to.  For the film’s first hour, I felt cold and isolated, just as the two main characters do, as the horror of a seemingly hopeless situation settles in and you begin to understand just how harrowing a scenario you are witnessing.  “Room” tells the fictional story of a young woman who was abducted and hidden away in a soundproof backyard shed located on the property of her kidnapper.  When the film begins, we meet Ma (Brie Larson), which she is now referred to as by her five year old son, Jack (Jacob Tremblay).  We immediately conclude Ma has been held captive for five plus years and the father of her son is her captor, a disturbing and evil excuse for a human who they refer to as Old Nick (Sean Bridgers).  

     If your one who doesn’t forget real life atrocities once they’ve disappeared from the news cycle, you likely be reminded of the Ariel Castro kidnapping case in Cleveland in which he had abducted three young women and kept them imprisoned within the bowels of his home for over ten years.  Castro sexually abused all three women and fathered a child with one of them who was six years old when the women were rescued.  Whether or not screenwriter Emma Donoghue, who adapted the script from her own novel of the same name, used that case or others like it as a basis for the story is unknown.  What I do know is the filmmakers have clearly set out to put the viewer inside the room to get a full understanding of what it feels like to have your life as you know it torn away and how difficult it is to live knowing there may be no end in sight.

     During the upcoming awards season, there will be plenty of well deserved accolades for Brie Larson’s performance; however, there is no doubt the heart and soul of this film is made possible by Jacob Tremblay’s performance as Jack, a five year old boy who has yet to see or understand the vast world just beyond the steel security door that keeps them locked in.  In the opening scene, Jack has just gotten up in the morning and does what he likely has done each and everyday, greeting the various items in the room as if they possess a pulse of their own in his eyes.  “Hi TV!” ,“Hi Rug!”, “Hi Toilet!”, he cheerfully yells, as Ma gets up and begins a routine she has repeated a thousand times before and will continue to do so in order to give Jack some semblance of a normal childhood.  Together they create playthings out of egg shells, toilet paper rolls, and various odds and ends most people would simply throw away.  With it being Jack’s birthday, they make a small cake from scratch and try to celebrate as best they can.  When Jack inquires as to why there are no candles, Ma tells him Nick only gives them things that are essential.  Jack doesn’t understand and has one of his frequent tantrums, but Ma has a way of salvaging the day and continuing to sacrifice herself in order to ensure Jack has what he needs.

     The layout of the room is simple.  A bed, a bathtub, a toilet, and a small kitchen are located along the perimeter with a table in the center and a small television that gets poor reception.  Many times, Jack will sleep in the same bed as Ma, but on nights Nick visits, he is forced to sleep on an old crib mattress inside of the closet.  The doors to the closet have slats and allow for an obstructed glimpse of Nick when he arrives.  Jack knows something is going on since the constant sexual abuse Ma endures makes plenty of noise, and yet Ma never overtly shows any ill effect of these horrific acts in front of Jack.  A testament to just how much she has been forced to grow in order to protect the only thing that matters to her most.  The bond between mother and son has never been more well articulated in a film than you will see in “Room”.  And that notion is only heightened in the scenes in which they plot their escape.

     The sequence in which Ma and Jack are rescued is better seen than described.  One incredibly important part of how it all plays out is the inspiring work of a Police Officer (Amanda Brugel) who questions Jack in the back of a patrol car in a desperate attempt to determine where his mother is.  Having both seen and experienced this situation many times myself, the Officer is able to put herself on the level of a five year old’s understanding and is able to extract small but helpful clues which lead directly to Ma’s location.  This is the kind of work Police Officers do everyday without so much as a thank you.  It was nice to see Abrahamson and Donoghue feel it was important enough to capture this crucial part of the initial investigation on film as it shows both their grasp on how these situations unfold from the police point of view, as well as the ability many dedicated Police Officers have to solve a crime when time is not on their side.  Lesser filmmakers would have glossed over these details and simply moved on to the rescue and subsequent reunion between the victims and their loved ones.

     With so many kids in our society overrun by endless advances in technology and social media, the story told after Ma and Jack’s rescue is certainly an interesting one given the fact he has yet to be exposed to anything beyond the four walls of the room he has been held captive in for the duration of his life.  You could compare Jack’s reaction to the first time a young child walk’s through the gates at Disneyland.  He is at first hesitant and apprehensive, but soon becomes curious and overwhelmed.  His first encounter with a flight of stairs inside your typical Midwest split level home is akin to when he took his first step as a baby. But he also begins to acclimate incredibly well and has the immediate love of his grandmother, Nancy (Joan Allen) who split from her husband, Robert (William H. Macy), in the wake of the kidnapping and now has a live in boyfriend named Leo (Tom McCamus) who proves equally as adept in caring for Jack.  The expected media frenzy surrounding the rescue proves difficult for Ma, of whom we learn her name is Joy Newsome, and we come to realize she herself still needs time to mature and put the entire ordeal in perspective as would be expected.  

     Over the years, there have been countless films whose primary themes deal with survival at all costs.  Many have been set within a war zone and depict real life characters who were able to find a way to live despite seemingly insurmountable odds.  “Room” falls comfortably within the same category with a setting that could be deemed as being a war (on crime) and a scenario that has every bit as much peril as any war film could demonstrate.  The performances by Brie Larson and Jacob Tremblay are the hidden gems of the entire year.  I say hidden since “Room” remains unseen by the masses and as an indie film has yet to be marketed at the level it deserves.  It possesses all of the same raw emotion and undeniable realism of last year’s “Boyhood”, but also injects the gritty undercurrent of a true crime story into the narrative which allows the film to pack an unrivaled combination of emotional heft and inspiring storylines.  

     Tremblay’s performance could easily be compared to Haley Joel Osment’s performance in 1999’s “The Sixth Sense” as being one of the truly great performances by a child star.  And Larson, who communicates on screen the natural transformation of a woman torn from her young teenage life and thrust into the circumstances that lead to her becoming a nurturing mother who is being depended upon for both her and son’s survival, is an obvious frontrunner for a Best Actress Oscar.  Both performances, as well as Emma Donoghue’s outstanding script, and Abrahamson’s solid and timely direction are the ingredients that make “Room” one of the best films of the year.  GRADE: A