Film review of ‘Room’

Go to your room and don’t come out until …

Don’t read this. I’m serious – just go to the cinema and see Room. The worst you could do is go into the theatre knowing plot details or having any preconceptions about this film before you see it. So don’t read about Room. Don’t talk to anyone who has seen it. Don’t google it, don’t even watch a trailer. Take my word for it: at the very least, it’s the best film of the 2016 awards season.

No room for error: See it!
Still here? Then I take it you’ve read the novel by Emma Donoghue or seen the film already – if not, I’ll attempt to be as spoiler-free as possible, but on your head be it. We are introduced to Joy (Larson), a young woman, perhaps in her early 20s, and her son Jack who is about to turn five. It becomes apparent that the two of them are restricted to life inside a tiny box room.

We see their daily lives play out – Joy is endlessly inventive, finding ways in which she can entertain Jack and fuel his imagination. There’s a TV on which, via a poor reception, Jack watches cartoons and learns about the world outside. The only other view beyond these walls is a skylight through which they can glimpse clouds and stars. It’s initially unclear whether the world outside is the one we know or perhaps some dystopian post-apocalypse.

Ain’t no room with no view
This perspective is crucial to the film’s effectiveness – as we experience everything through Jack’s eyes – what is essentially a very grim predicament becomes whimsical, even magical. After we learn that Joy has been here for seven years, it becomes clear that this tiny world is all that Jack has ever known.

Other details occasionally pierce the ‘normality’ that Joy has carefully constructed for her son. The man who visits them occasionally, the only outsider to ever enter ‘room’, as Jack and Joy refer to their habitat, is a mysterious middle-aged man who Joy calls ‘Old Nick’ (a brilliantly restrained performance by Sean Bridgers).

Old Nick visits when Jack is asleep in the closet. Jack must never leave the closet until Old Nick is gone again. Old Nick brings food and, on one occasion, a toy. Jack comes to think of Old Nick as a benevolent entity, but Joy is quick to correct him on this – Old Nick is NOT a friend.

Old Nick is of course Joy’s captor. He visits her for sex whilst bringing them food and punishes their disobedience by turning off the heating and the like. Before long, Joy begins to school Jack in preparation for his greatest adventure yet: escape. It is to the story’s credit that the narrative continues far beyond this point, exploring fully the psychological repercussions of their captivity with an understated, nuanced approach to a story we may be familiar with via news media, but rarely are we ever afforded an inside perspective.

No Camembert here, Brie!
Brie Larson fully earns her Best Actress gong and no less impressive is young Jacob Tremblay.

Abramson (Frank) directs them both with a lightness of touch, pulling off a delicate balance, depicting their desperate existence without melodrama or sentimentality.

Room leaves you with a profound sense of the trust children place in a parent and the responsibility of a parent to guide their child’s acclimatisation to the beauty and horror of living.