The Watchers

The Watchers

Tuesday, 26 January 2016

Review: Room (UK Cert 15)

Five year old Jack (Jacob Tremblay) and his Ma (Brie Larson) live in Room, a windowless confined space with rudimentary equipment. Ma is periodically visited by a man who they have named Old Nick (Sean Bridgers) who provides them with needed supplies. Eventually, Ma tells Jack the truth - when she was 17, Old Nick abducted her and has kept her locked in Room ever since (and is Jack's father, who was conceived by rape). Ma concocts an escape plan... It's not really a spoiler per se that the escape plan works, as the trailer makes it abundantly clear that they do get out. The second part of the film then shifts slightly and focuses on Jack and Ma's adjustment to the real world.  

Room is adapted by Emma Donoghue from her 2010 novel of the same name, and directed by Lenny Abrahamson (Frank). I read the book a few years ago and, whilst I had a few issues with it, I was intrigued to see how a film adaptation would work.

Brie Larson's performance is superb. You really feel sorry for her at the beginning, having to deal with the utter brattishness of a child who doesn't understand and the various travails that Old Nick puts her through. But she's strong and determined and she wants her son to have a better life. Her performance in the second part of the film- when she's out of Room- is very different. She's angry, she's unable to adjust or cope with everything that's going on and eventually snaps at her mother (a strong supporting performance by the ever-dependable Joan Allen) and then has a disastrous interview with a talk-show host. Larson really sells the performance and it's no surprise that the lion's share of the awards have gone to her. I'm pretty certain that, come the end of February, you can add an Oscar to that list.

One of the big issues I had with the book was that I didn't like how Jack behaved a lot of the time; I found him to be an absolute brat (which didn't make for an enjoyable read). Sadly, the adaptation has been quite faithful and, for a large part of the film (especially the first section when they were still in Room), I found Jack to be an insufferable little sod. It feels horrible saying that- like kicking a puppy- but paradoxically it's nothing to do with Jacob Tremblay's acting (who shoulders the weight of the film alongside Larson admirably). Tremblay's performance is strong and mostly avoids falling into precocious or wise-beyond-years (even if some of the voiceovers don't always chime with how a five-year-old thinks). It's just down to how the character has been written that was the main issue for me.

Abrahamson's direction is clear and focused and the scene where Jack emerges from beneath the rug he's been hidden in into the real world (birth metaphors aside) is disconcerting, almost approaching sensory overload and it's powerfully conveyed. There are a couple of strong visual moments throughout which keep things interesting (especially as the focus shifts from thriller to family drama). 

Room is not a cheerful film (despite being about the triumph of the human spirit and the strong bond between mother and child); this is a hard look at a tricky subject. If you're looking for laughs or for a switch-your-brain-off popcorn movie, look elsewhere. Generally speaking, it's a solid piece of film-making with a strong central performance by Brie Larson. A difficult film to enjoy but one that can be admired.

Rating: 3 out of 5


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