Most parents will tell you, raising a child is not an easy job. Imagine then, raising a child under the confines – emotional and physical – imposed upon by a deranged, truly malicious man.
This is the plight dealt to Brie Larson’s character in Room, a harrowing and emotionally demanding adaptation of Emma Donoghue’s 2010 novel of the same name. The plot tells the story of a young woman, known as Ma, who has been forcefully trapped in a 10-by-10-foot space for years, forced to give birth and raise her son in the small location he will come to know as Room. Jack’s world is what his mother, in order to protect his developing sensibilities, has made him believe. As her son’s inquiries begin to collide with her protective fabrications and as their kidnapper, termed Old Nick, continues his inquires about her son during his distressing visits, it becomes clear that their situation has to change.
As with its source material, Room is told from the point of view of young Jack. He is, as with many children, curious of his world. He has friends, only they go by names we may have all heard: skylight, rock, lamp. These circumstances have made him completely dependent on his mother; she is more than a mother and provider, she is his best friend. With Jack’s narration, filled with enlivened descriptions of what is what in his young life, we quickly come to learn of his view. Director Lenny Abrahamson (Frank) ensures his camera is trained on Jack throughout much of the film, giving us often obscured looks at what is unfolding, both visually and narratively speaking. It’s a challenging angle from which to tell a story such as this, and while it doesn’t always deliver plot developments in perfectly satisfactory forms, it ensures a deeply emotional connection is made from audience to narrative.
The following does not contain spoilers, but it does describe a key plot development that has been included in the film’s marketing campaign.
Room beautifully sets up the titular setting and introduces us to our two protagonists in a way that showcases wonderful writing from Donoghue. Adapting her own work, Donoghue’s screenplay keeps a focus on Jack and his relationship with Ma, solidifying the love the two hold for one another with laughter, games and arts & crafts. Yet, impressively, Donoghue keeps us holding onto tension, a steady increase of dread until Ma’s plan to escape comes to fruition.
The entire escape sequence is beautifully executed, nail-biting suspense driven through the roof as we beg for everything to go according to plan. Unfortunately, the film’s predicament at this point lies in the rush there seems to be to jump into its next stage. Things unfold rapidly at a major point of transition, failing to convince of the nagging details needed to truly have this welcome outcome applauded without question. It’s a difficult qualm to discuss without spoiling details, but it’s there nevertheless.
As Ma comes to realise that re-establishing herself back in the world may not be as easy as she imagined, Jack’s real journey begins, and the film’s true star emerges. Jacob Tremblay is absolutely outstanding, more than convincing as a boy fraught with fear and hesitantly curious of this new discovery: the outside world. Jack’s frustration and wide-eyed learning is emitted beautifully, giving us the perfect character from which to view the understandably temperamental developments of Ma. He is devastating.
Larson gives an emotional and honest performance, balancing the unquestionable love of a mother with the heartbreaking challenges of parenting with internal instability and pain. She snaps, at both Jack and her family, but Larson ensures it’s always from a place we can understand. The narrative’s focus on Jack does mean we skip some of her character’s turning points, although their mother-son interactions work well to play catch-up. Tremblay and Larson are seriously good here. Donoghue’s touching screenplay can only work so far; it takes performers like these to bring it all home.
The craftsmanship on offer from our fantastic leads, while imperative to the film’s success, should by no means push aside the recognition earned by director Abrahamson, editor Nathan Nugent and score composer Stephen Rennicks. The film manages to give us harrowing moments without ever bordering on the exploitative, has us on edge without resorting to cheap suspense-driving tactics, and offers up deeply unsettling plot points without descending into despair. Room is a journey brimming with human emotion, illustrating hope, perseverance, and above all, love.
THE REEL SCORE: 9/10