Room [2015]

Room [2015] not to be confused with The Room [2003] or Four Rooms [1995] (gee, cinema sure loves rooms, eh?) is a Canadian-Irish drama based on Emma Donoghue’s acclaimed novel of the same name. Lenny Abrahamson (probably best known, in recent memory, for the-one-where-Michael-Fassbender-wears-a-papier-mâché-head aka Frank [2014]) brings us into the eponymous Room where Brie Larson and Jacob Tremblay play captive mother and son Joy and Jack Newsome. This film depicts the story of the pair whose world, for seven years, consisted of the simple confines of Room, a glorified tool shed.

JJ vs. The World… Larson and Tremblay’s interpretations of Joy and Jack immediately show that there is more than the alliteration that meets the eye: the two are instantly believable as mother and son. There is a tenderness and resilience to their interactions as they juggle the balancing act of saving each other from the specter of Old Nick, the generic Big Bad of this story. Larson and Tremblay actually spent time together and bonded before principal photography and this shows. Their performances are genuine and nuanced and it is the absolute highlight of this film. Everything else plays second fiddle.

Psychology Informs Form… Room adeptly handles some very dark material. Though inspired by a true event much worse than the story of Room, this is still material that could easily veer into melodramatic, overly sentimental territory. Despite the presence of moments that were clearly designed to tug at heartstrings, a smart choice on Abrahamson’s part is to juxtapose those moments with a matter-of-fact depiction of the actual room in which Joy and Jack were held captive. At times, it seemed like Joy and Jack were getting on quite well in this small shed. The camera’s practical depiction of their single room helps bring a degree of comfort to this small shed. This speaks to Joy’s motivation for presenting Jack’s guilelessly dubbed, capital R, Room as the beginning and end of all reality: it boils down to her loving desire for Jack to be content and not feel trapped. A different filmmaker may have been tempted to indulge in the claustrophobia of this room—emphasizing time and again how oppressively small it is—but Abrahamson doesn’t do this. This choice helps curb the potential for hamminess and helps bring a layer of complexity to this horrifying premise.

It’s In The Details… The scenes in the room were shot entirely in a closed shed where the camera never exited the fourth wall. In this, the director and crew deserve recognition for not using any cheats. This shows a good level of integrity to the story and to the characters, which continues throughout the film. For instance, the scene in which Jack escapes is shot quite clearly to emulate how discombobulated he must have felt after believing, for his entire life, that the world was only his Room. Details do count; and, when things as small as the drawings seen posted on the walls of the shed were thought about—they were made by Larson and Tremblay—it’s a sign that a good deal of care went into constructing this film.

Is This Structurally Sound? Though it is apparent that there are commendable elements in Abrahamson's picture, there is also a flaw about Room that holds this picture back. Room feels like a film that bit off more than it can chew. This film is not about whether or not Joy and Jack escape captivity. The trailer readily shows the two struggling with life after the fact. Since the premise sets out to explore both captivity and life after captivity, in trying to do both, the result is that one part outshines the other. What would have been more economical would have been to explore life after-the-fact in depth such that it then comments on their captive state or vice versa. It’s in the film’s structure that it’s easy to spot that the screenplay was, to varying degrees of success, adapted from a novel; and, what works for a novel does not necessarily work for a screenplay. The second half of the film offers nothing new in regards to how life after a traumatic event is typically depicted onscreen. Larson and Tremblay continue to do great work though and it is for this reason that we ultimately continue to care for these characters.

Round Tones, Miss Lamont, Round Tones… Another way in which this film shows its roots lies in Tremblay’s voice overs. It felt cliche and is one of the few displeasing things about Room. Yes, the book was written from his perspective, but this is where the parameters of a medium should have been taken into consideration. VO is a tool; and like any other tool of filmmaking, it should be used thoughtfully. VO in this film, however, felt like shorthand: an easy way to access Jack’s thoughts to rouse emotions and altogether took away from the film.

Larson and Tremblay will impress. Everything else? Not quite as groundbreaking.