Recalling real life cases such as that of Josef Fritzl who held his own daughter captive in an underground cellar for 24 years, Room is the extraordinary story of Jack (Tremblay) who has never known anything other than his Ma (Larson) and the Room he was born in and has never left. As far as he is concerned there is nothing outside of Room, it’s not just his world but THE world.
Ma has created a whole universe for Jack within Room, and she endeavours to ensure that, even in this contained environment, Jack is able to laugh, play and live. It is quickly established that we are experiencing the story through Jack’s eyes and this perspective never really shifts for the entirety of the film and indeed this is one of Room’s greatest strengths as it gives us the viewers a sense of wonder and hope in a horrifying situation.
In early scenes we get to explore every inch of the 11ft by 11ft Room with Jack and Ma, getting a sense of both how small their world is and their daily routines. Somehow, incredibly, Abrahamson and his DP Danny Cohen manage to create a real sense of depth and space and most importantly warmth. It is this warmth and the loving, nurturing relationship between Jack and Ma that is key to Room and gives the movie its beating heart.
Central to this of course are Tremblay and Larson who give two astonishingly, real and heartfelt performances, sure to be two of the best of the year and strong contenders for awards season. Indeed Larson has already seen Golden Globe and Screen Actors Guild award nominations, with Tremblay receiving an SAG nomination too. Both are outstanding. Larson, who always seems to light up the screen and was fantastic in the criminally unseen Short Term 12, is superb here as a mother trying to provide and care for her child in unimaginable circumstances. She is both strong and fragile, a little girl and mother all at the same time. In a strong year for female performances (Cate Blanchet, Rooney Mara, Saoirse Ronan, Charlize Theron) Larson is a leading contender. Tremblay meanwhile is astonishing as 5 year old Jack. He is our eyes and ears and guide to Room. His performance is real, heartfelt and full of wonder, his relationship with on-screen Ma is utterly convincing. You truly believe that bond will not be broken by anyone or anything.
With such strong performances Director Lenny Abrahamson (What Richard Did, Frank) has clearly done something right. He makes sure we see everything from Jack’s POV, often placing the camera at Jack’s eye level. This works for the most part giving us a fantastic insight into Jack’s feelings and wonder, but feels false for one key scene late in the film.
Abrahamson also stages one of the most tense ‘heart in your mouth’ scenes of the year with a planned escape from Room. Unlike the trailer this reviewer will not give away whether or not Jack and Ma escape Room as it is best to go in cold. Though Room is anything but.
Emotional and heart-warming with outstanding performances from the two leads, Room is overwhelmingly about love, the bond between mother and child and the wonder of the world. Easy to forget in these dark times, Ma and Jack and Room give us all hope.
Review by Antony Palmer