Room – Film Review

Spend your whole life, cocooned within a single room.  Never go out, never experience the outside world.  Sit all day in front of the TV.  Sounds like heaven for most emo teenagers. That’s the spin, but that’s not exactly how the simulated reality of Room pans out in simulated reality.

There isn’t what you’d call a scene of comic relief.  There are no laughs in Room, except those of the nervous kind from the back of the theatre, as the drama plays out in ever more awkward scenes until the situation for mother and child just reaches an excruciating jeopardy.  Brie Larson, currently on screen in Trainwreck, gets her dramatic chops out in this singularly unglam role.  You’ll fall for Jacob Tremblay as the five-year-old co-star, even if you have nagging doubts all the way through.

This indie collaboration deserves applause, not least for bringing together in presumed harmony, the diverse agendas of Film Four, the Irish Film Board and various Canadian interests – the latter being the reason for locating much of the action in bleak nondescript outer suburban Toronto.

If you’ve read Emma Donoghue’s book, or followed the news horror story that was Josef Fritzl, then you’ll have a good idea of what to expect from Room.  Donoghue’s screenplay is as faithful as can be to her written work.  Kidnap, incarceration, unspeakable and mercifully un-filmed acts against the person, then freedom and reconciliations of sorts.  That’s the story arc, but more than one arc crashes down around the ears of the characters. You have been warned.

Irish director Lenny Abrahamson’s fictional film may be more factually conventional than his surreal outing with Michael Fassbender in Frank – but there’s an obvious comparison.  In that earlier work, his star spends the entire film behind a huge mask, obscured from the world.  In Room, the star is again hidden from view, except we’re on the inside this time, along for the ride.  Happy endings not guaranteed, which is probably why Hollywood will never touch this.  Room is as gritty as it gets.

How do you cope with what you never knew, if all you know is all you’ve ever known?  They might be the words of ambiguously androgynous Jack, the five-year old tugging at the heart strings of the story.  A child, born in the most extreme circumstances, loved by one parent, ignored by the other, tries to come to terms with a world that would drive any of us stir crazy – stir crazy if we’d ever known life any other way.

None of the protagonists comes out of this film with a halo.  Even the good guys have scripted imperfections flagged up with highlighter in the screenplay – impatient cop; devil-dog man; bitter divorcee.  they’re all there.  You’ll spot them without having to ask, but you will ask yourself how anyone could live a life like this.  Spend two hours in the room with Room and you’ll realise, even just a little, that you too live within these walls.  Go home and you’ll hug your children just a little bit tighter tonight.

Room is directed by Lenny Abrahamson, and stars Brie Larson and Jacob Tremblay.

UK Certificate 15.

Released 15 January 2016.


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