Room takes hold of you in it’s opening seconds and keeps a firm grip for the first hour. Director Lenny Abrahamson and writer Emma Donaghue (adapting her own novel) wisely confine the audience in the same room that has oppressed Joy (Brie Larson) for seven years and Jack (Jacob Tremblay) for his entire life. While successfully conveying the claustrophobia of this make-shift prison with tight compositions and cramped mise-en-scene, Abrahamson doesn’t miss the opportunity to inject some Grimm’s Fairy Tale flavouring. Room is told almost exclusively from Jack’s point-of-view and thus the room itself takes on the quality of a magical cave; fantastic yet not devoid of shadow and danger. This room is Jack’s entire universe, and we too come to look at it with equal importance. Their captor, Uncle Nick, is revealed slowly through slats in a cupboard or obtuse blocking and his presence in the film is always one of great discomfort. We never find out much about him, yet he also feels real and fully-rounded. Every grimm fairy tale needs a big bad wolf and he suitably fits the bill.
The performances from both Larson and Tremblay in Room are totally captivating and with little-else to distract from their work, location and plot-wise, in the film’s first half they make the limited space even more alive and threatening. Of-course, when the canvas widens and the real-world comes into play, a lot of Room‘s power is extinguished. The film doesn’t immediately suffer, you have come to care about these characters enough that you feel a need to know the rest of their story. However, upon hindsight I don’t feel it’s essential.
The performances never falter, Larson and Tremblay carry on their characters’ arcs with complete mastery, yet their situation just becomes less interesting. If you were to make a list of characters I cared most about in 2015, Joy and Jake would be high on it but the film itself doesn’t quite elicit as much passion from me. As I think back to the movie, I find myself returning to those early scenes where its just four walls and two characters surviving the greatest ordeal they will ever face. Their recovery is nowhere near as enlightening or unique. The film would have been much stronger, and bolder, were to it to remain confined and intimate and use the escape into freedom as a final note, rather than a midway checkpoint.
PS. As a big fan of Frank it’s great to see Abrahamson get some real mainstream attention from this movie without losing much of his sensibility, I just hope he doesn’t drift off into making awards bait from now on.