IN CINEMAS NOW
RUNNING TIME: 122 min
REVIEWED BY: Dr Lenera, Official HCF Critic
Five-year old Jack and his mother, Ma, live in a small crowded room with no windows, only a single skylight in the ceiling. They are captives of a man Ma calls Old Nick who abducted her seven years ago and has been keeping her in a shed behind his home and repeatedly raping her. Old Nick is Jack’s father, and Ma has so far protected Jack from the reality of their situation. Every day, Ma and Jack engage in routines, exercise, and try to retain their mental health. When Jack celebrates his fifth birthday, Ma has become ill due to poor diet. Learning that Old Nick is unemployed and may not have the money to pay for food and vitamins for her and Jack, she realises Jack’s life is now in danger and begins to prepare him for the outside world….
Room is one of the most emotionally intense cinematic experiences I’ve seen in some time, and it probably deserves a full length review – and maybe one day I’ll do one – but we just don’t have time to fully review everything we watch on HCF, and I’ve been finding myself in the position of having to do more and more short reviews of films I see at the cinema. In a way it also doesn’t help that Room provoked such deep reactions in me, so much so that I think I may have trouble stringing together enough words for a lengthy write-up. Make no mistake though, it is a superb piece of work that, while it is often extremely upsetting, also ends up being very uplifting and even beautiful, and this is despite its first third being very gruelling indeed. Director Lenny Abrahamson may not show, for example, Ma being raped by Old Nick, but seeing Jack, put to sleep in a cupboard by his mother so he doesn’t witness the worst of the abuse, hear the sounds of the sex and looking out between the cracks, is still highly upsetting. Right from the beginning, I was completely and utterly blown away by the incredibly real performances of Brie Larson and Jacob Tremblay [though what on earth did they tell the young actor?]. Their best moment early on is when, on his fifth birthday, Ma tells Jack about the outside world, and Jack is upset because Ma has been lying to her all these years .”I wish I was four again” he says [I feel like weeping now]. Tremblay is also especially impressive in the scenes where his character proves stronger than his mother. This little guy delivers what in my humble opinion is one of the greatest performances by a child actor in the history of the cinema.
If you’ve seen the trailer for the film, it won’t come as a surprise that Jack escapes, in a truly hair-raising sequence, and two thirds of the way through the movie slows down to a different pace to deal with life in the outside world, a slow healing,except that said healing is frought with problems. There are still moments of severe trauma, but I was prone to shedding tears more during bits of happiness, like when Jack finds a friend his own age for the first time. The final scene, a strange, slightly disturbing but very moving twist on the typical ‘farewell’ ending, didn’t just seem to leave me sobbing in the cinema. Room is expertly lensed by Danny Cohen, using lots of odd and even experimental shots to show things from Jack’s point of view, and adeptly changing camera styles to show Jack’s awkwardness, the way he’s prone to get distracted like all young kids, and his attempts to assimilate things, while the screenplay by Emma Donaghue, based on her novel of the same name, doesn’t always go down the easy route and is brave enough, for example, to show Ma as being not always entirely sympathetic. Asking us to look at how we view the world, Room is close to being an exceptional film. It’s an incredible journey that may initially scar but should also leave you very hopeful. I feel that it’s the best of a small string of impressive films to come out in the UK early this year. If this is the calibre of film that we’re in for in 2016, then we’re in for a treat.