BFI London Film Festival: Room


Events, Features, Film, Review | by — October 12, 2015

Directed by Lenny Abrahamson
Starring Brie Larson and Jacob Tremblay

by Ruth Thomson

The room in question is small, cramped, dirty, lit only by a skylight, and aesthetically unpleasant in every imaginable way. It’s home to five year old Jack (Jacob Tremblay) and his mother Joy (Brie Larson), or ‘Ma’ as she’s commonly known throughout the film. Both are pale, malnourished, and blue lipped when the heating’s turned off, and yet they seem to have a way of life with some hallmarks of normality. Apart from when ‘Old Nick’ (Sean Bridgers) turns up, seemingly the only outsider to enter their universe – at which point Jack hides in the wardrobe with only the noises of Nick and Ma’s union for company. For the opening portion of the film we’re none the wiser as to why Jack and Ma live in such an unpleasant environment. Believe me, when the penny drops, it’s not good…

Directed by Lenny Abrahamson, Room is an adaptation of the award-winning 2010 novel by Irish-Canadian author Emma Donoghue who also wrote the screenplay. Donoghue wrote the original novel after hearing about the five year old child called Felix at the centre of the Josef Fritzl case: which will cast some light on the aforementioned penny. Although not entirely told in the voice of Jack (as is the case with the novel), the five year old’s perspective permeates the film, and his incredulity when Ma tells him that there is life (complete with dogs, trees and people) outside of Room, is heart-breaking.

The film is very much in two halves, and the scene that marks their distinction had my heart pounding so hard it almost smashed through my chest. As Jack makes it into the outside world for the first time, the suspense and jeopardy of his situation is flooded with an incredible optimistic feeling of rebirth, as he sees for the first time the enormity of the blue sky above him. The energy shifts very slightly in the second half of the film as other characters come into the mix: dependably well played by Joan Allen, William H Macy and Tom McCamus. There are occasional moments which feel like they’re teetering on the edge of sentimentality and social comment, like the interview Joy/Ma endures at the hands of insensitive Oprah-esque talk show host Wendy Crewson.

Overall, Room packs a massive emotional punch which leaves you reflecting on the brutality of such situations at the same time as the incredible innocence and optimism of childhood. As Abrahamson says, at the heart of the film is a happy child with a loving mother (terrifically played by Tremblay and Larson), and that bond can overcome even the most horrific circumstances.


Our red carpet interviews with Brie Larson & Lenny Abrahamson.

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