Review: Room

Jack Whitehead 24 January 2016

Room is one of those rare films that manages to effortlessly cross boundaries of both genre and intended audience. Propelled by a brilliant screenplay by Emma Donoghue (who also wrote the award-winning novel on which the movie is based), the film defies categorisation: simultaneously a gut-wrenching drama, suspenseful thriller and poignant tale of survival.

At the heart of the story is the relationship between the two central characters. Firstly there is Jack, the five year-old boy through whose eyes we enter Room, the tiny windowless space in which he was conceived, born and raised. Jacob Tremblay shines in this role: every stare, every movement and every line of dialogue is so earnestly authentic that you can’t help but fall for his warped sense of reality. Then there is Ma, the young mother who was forced to grow up too quickly after her abduction, rape and subsequent childbirth. Brie Larson (Short Term 12) gives her all in this role. Larson’s choice to eschew hysterics in favour of a subtlety that perfectly conveys quiet desperation is commendable, adding another layer to an already complex character. Pain, fear, fatigue, anxiety and (perhaps) hope are palpable in every inch of her (Oscar-nominated) performance.

Although Jack and Ma’s plan to escape from Room is the plot’s driving force, the film’s real questions run deeper. Can the threads of an old life simply be picked up? Can the will to survive overpower human evil? And are the bonds that tie us together strong enough to overcome unimaginable trauma?

Any complaints about the film are attributable to the inherent limitations of the medium. Constraints of time mean that the ennui of years of captivity is never fully brought home for the audience, and certain story avenues are not fully explored (in particular, the insufficient attention paid to William H Macy’s character); but these are minor issues that do little to diminish the power of the story or the drama’s intrigue.

An emotional maelstrom that will leave you thinking long after you leave the cinema, Room is not one to be missed.