Review: ‘Room’ Haunting, Scintillating, and Soulful

The screening for the Room was rather small and intimate. As the film was about to begin in walked another critic, on any normal night, this would not be surprising. But tonight was a little different. I knew that he’d seen this movie a week prior and here he was ready to sit down and experience Room once again. “You’re back again?” I asked. He smiled back at me. “Yep, that should tell you something.” About two hours later it became crystal clear why he would want to see this again. Room is one of the most haunting tales of loss and reawakening. The film is one the best of 2015.

On the surface it’s easy to assume this film is just about captivity, but there is so much more to Room than meets the eye. Inside the cramped 11-by-11 interior of a sealed, soundproof garden shed is the story of a mother, her 5 year-old son, and how time/regret can make unknowing captives of us all. Director Lenny Abrahamson did a marvelous job bringing the 2010 Emma Donaghue novel to the screen and it still packs the same emotional punch. One of the best calls the director made was enlisting the help of Donoghue to help adapt the story for the screen. Who else would have a better understanding of just what a massive undertaking it would be to retell her story with the essential tools? For example, a mastery of language and an inner monologue that keeps us locked inside the head of the story’s 5-year-old protagonist. If you are someone who is diving into Room without any prior knowledge of the story, it may take a few beats of the film to fully grasp the precise nature of what is transpiring; but when it clicks, the results are powerful.

It’s fascinating how the cinematography was an essential element to a movie that for the first half of the is based in one single room. Danny Cohen does an amazing job of bringing such a small concealed space to life. Using dingy and muted colors as well as tight and wide lens close-ups, the film deliberately places us in close with Jack (Jacob Trembaly) and Joy (Brie Larson), the only other person he’s ever spoken to. Even though they spend every waking moment together, Jack has no awareness of what’s going on in the outside world.  He develops a special bond to inanimate objects in the room such as the Table, Toilet, and Sink, in the same way you would develop relationships with your friends.  The idea of this is heartbreaking.  Of course, his Ma is his best friend, tending to his every need from playing games, to exercise, to fixing his meals, and even baking him a birthday cake for his fifth birthday.

It was at this point, when Jack is put to bed in “Wardrobe,” that we catch a glimpse of a man known only as Old Nick (Sean Bridgers). Old Nick opens a coded door and has quite a “noisy” interaction with Jack’s mother, leaving food and supplies before disappearing once again.  This brings the true nature of the story into focus, and crushes your soul. Ma decides to tell Jack the truth: Seven years ago, she was kidnapped by Old Nick (“He stole me,” she explains) and imprisoned in “Room.” Two years later, Jack was born, and you immediately understand that this sweet boy, despite the personal hell she has indured, and despite the circumstances in which he was conceived, gave his mother a reason to live.

In most of your “typical” Hollywood scripts, the dramatic moment would be when finally Ma and Jack escape from Room; however, Room is not your “typical” Hollywood movie. Room is all about the shell shock of two individuals who have been severed from the outside world for seven agonizing years, and how they adjust as they integrate back into the world. Jack has never been outside of Room and understandably is having a rough adjustment to being free. Jack’s first exposure to the outside world is the white walls of a hospital room, which is painfully overlit, like it’s some sort of scene from a science fiction film. This was a brilliant decision on the part of Abrahamson and the cinematographer because it truly gave you sense of what shock Jack must be feeling at that very moment. Think about it: How would your eyes adjust if you were use to the same level of light for five years and then you were exposed to something completely different?

Joan Allen does what Joan Allen does in every role and that give an excellent performance as Jack’s very relieved but emotionally shattered Grandma. Although William H. Macy doesn’t have a ton of on camera time he makes the most of his time as the Grandpa who can’t quite accept that his daughter is back after seven years. Jacob Tremblay and Brie Larson are what everyone will be talking about after they leave theater. Jacob’s portrayal of Jack is so authentic, so soulful and spirited, you immediately are drawn to him, agonizing over the fact he has not yet experienced such things as breathing the outside air or getting to play in a field with his friends.

Brie Larson delivers a radiant, strong, unforgettable performance. Larson is no stranger to the heavy drama. She received a ton of praise for her role as a counselor to trouble teens in Short Term 12. Larson brings the intensity of a momma bear while the tenderness as one would expect towards your son.  Viewers will see the rage build in her eyes as she grows weary of the fact her offspring has been forced to breathe the same rancid air for five years. It’s as authentic of performance as I’ve seen this year, and it deserves recognition.

It’s not difficult to understand why most will not be immediately drawn to go see Room. The subject matter is as intense as you will see at the movies this year. The thought of the film even gave one of the editors of this web page a ton of angst (as well as this critic). However, I implore all of you to look beyond the simple plot points of this film and allow this movie to wash over you like a wave. Go experience one the best films of 2015, go see Room.

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Dewey Singleton - Film Critic
Dewey Singleton - Film Critic
I'm a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association and have been doing reviews for many years. My views on film are often heard in markets such as Atlanta, Houston, and satellite radio. My wife often tolerates my obsession for all things film related and two sons are at an age now where 'Trolls' is way cooler than dad. Follow me on twitter @mrsingleton.

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