The less you know about Room before you watch, the more you’ll enjoy it. It’s a film that depends on its big reveal. But to not mention it wouldn’t make for a very interesting review – consider this your spoiler warning.
It’s the juxtaposition of the film’s two narrative halves that makes it such a success. We begin inside the titular room, almost voyeuristically spying on the lives of Jack (Jacob Tremblay) and his Ma (Brie Larson). Where Emma Donoghue’s novel – on which the film is based – tells its story purely from the juvenile, naïve perspective of Jack, here the film takes a broader approach. Extreme close ups and a lack of light create a sense of claustrophobia for both characters: for Jack this one room is the only world he’s ever known, for Ma it’s a torture full of unbearable frustration. Voiceovers from Jack suggest a confidence in his surroundings, but that soon changes. In what is one of the darkest and most desperate decisions in cinema (and literature), Ma persuades Jack to play dead so that their captor Old Nick (Sean Bridgers) will remove him, allowing an escape.
That escape is a real Wizard of Oz moment. Jack looks out at the world, overwhelmed. Wide angled shots give a sudden sense of space and colour and he turns immediately from bratty kid to almost mute. You’ll find yourself willing him to divulge information to the police as tension grows in the build up to Ma’s rescue. The sense of relief is palpable.
And that is essentially it. It’s both a blessing and a curse that the film’s climax comes about a third of the way in. Not much else happens and you find yourself questioning “what now?”.
That, though, is the whole point. What now? Room isn’t a film about kidnapping; indeed besides a brief explanation we never find out too much about Ma’s capture or Old Nick’s reasoning. Instead, this is a film about overcoming trauma, looking to the future and not dwelling on the past. After experiencing such a horrific event, having your life back is a gift – but what would you do with it?
That’s why Room is such a life-affirming film. Sometimes we need to take a step back and view things with clarity through the simplified, innocent lens of a child – and that’s exactly what director Lenny Abrahamson gives us. Through low angles we see the world as Jack does, where tiny moments have huge impact. As with the delicate score from Stephen Rennicks, the film offers minimal storytelling with maximum effect: the room could be a metaphor for any sort of grief or trauma and with the film being so vast and spacious, it’s up to us to fill in the blanks with our own meaning. Room, then, becomes an extremely personal film.
It also focuses down on the central performances. Sure, Tremblay is adorable as Jack, but it’s Larson who gives a truly remarkable performance. Ma is such a complex character, a volatile mix of frustration, sadness, depression, strength, and love for her son. Where Jack proves resilient to his surroundings, Ma agonises over her ability as a mother. Larson’s emotionally charged performance expertly guides us through the film – without it, Room wouldn’t be such a cathartic release.
Watch: Room is out now.