Of all the major awards contenders this year, Room ***** is my favourite. What a fine, terrifying and tender film it is, the story of a mother and son kept in captivity, who develop their own language and their own world to cope with their environment. Room is a real survival story, and it doesn’t need epic landscapes to add grandure.
Brie Larson is just wonderful as Joy, a kidnap victim imprisoned in a garden shed where she has given birth to a son Jack after repeated violation at the hands of her evil captor. There, mother and son have lived for five years and she has raised him to believe that this is the whole world, a world simply called Room, populated only by Table, Lamp, Bath, Spoon and Wardrobe.
The novel on which it is based, by Emma Donoghue who now proves a skilful screenwriter in fearlessly adapting her own material, is told through the child’s voice but he and Ma share POV duties here. I think it works a treat – the kiddie voice would have become grating as a voiceover so instead we get to see Jacob Tremblay’s extraordinary performance from the outside – if ever someone deserve to become one of the youngest ever Oscar nominees, it is He.
But Brie Larson is equally brilliant, her performance perhaps helped by the fact that she’s somewhat unknown (or at least unrecognisable from the actress playing Amy Schumer’s sister in Trainwreck, or in 21 Jump Street). She transmits all the frazzled fatigue of a mother yet also the steely invention that kicks in as natural protection. Her love fills Room.
As does her grim, animalistic determination to survive and protect. The captor, dubbed “old Nick”, visits but she keeps Jack hidden and submits to his sexual degradations. Yet we can always see her eyes searching for a way out.
When it comes, it thrills like nothing else. Director Lenny Abrahamson handles it superbly, so well that my stomach churned and knotted and my heart felt stuck in my mouth, almost choking me as the police lady tries to piece things together under the mounting crescendoes of Stephen Rennick’s score.
And then there’s more, the aftermath, about dealing the real world, which, horrifyingly, isn’t necessarily any better than captivity for distraught Joy and especially for little Jack, who kind of loved things in Room and having Ma to himself. Sometimes, Jack will say something that breaks your heart with its simplicity, with its logic – a brilliantly conceived phrase here and there that takes you right back into the tortured yet dreamlike mental space of Room itself, where baby innocence confronted and challenged brutal experience every second of every hellish, dark day.
But I don’t want to spoil the rhythms and the twisting textures of the film for anyone – even people who’ve read the book will find themselves wrong-footed, their emotions given a right buffeting through the storm of this excellent, beautifully-pitched film.