- RatedPG13 /GenreDrama
[Spoiler warning: If you haven't read the book or seen the movie, you might want to avoid reading on.]
Emma Donoghue's acclaimed novel ‘Room’ was one of the most riveting books I've read in recent years. The novel is told from the point of view of 5-year-old Jack, who is imprisoned in a shed together with his mother, Joy.
Jake has only known the inside of the shed, and the book captures that naive yet poignant voice perfectly. The two are the prisoners of Old Nick, who keeps them captive. Nick rapes Joy on a daily basis while Jack hides in a tiny closet.
The movie is also written by Donoghue, and director Lenny Abrahamson manages to do a faithful adaptation while giving the actors and scenes space to breathe. He is helped by great performances from his two lead actors; Jacob Tremblay plays Jack with his tantrums and fears believably while Joy is played by independent film darling Brie Larson.
The two have great chemistry, and Larson, who won the Golden Globe for Best Actress in a Drama, fully earns that honour. There's a chilling sequence when Joy agrees to everything Nick says, suggesting the amount of abuse that she's had to endure without ever having to explicitly spell it out. Larson has to portray a character that has to remain strong and resist breaking down despite the abuse heaped on her.
However, it's Tremblay who is the core of the film. The charismatic young actor is completely convincing as a boy who has only known his tiny environment and is then plunged into the confusing chaos of the outside world. When Joy sends Jack out in order to get help, the resulting sequence is one of the most gripping and suspenseful scenes in film for the past few years. It's a masterclass in suspense and generating tension.
The second part of the movie, which focuses on the pair after their escape, is undoubtedly weaker. Joy might have escaped the shed but is still a victim. Abrahamson fills her new home with fragile things – mirrors, crystal and lots of glass, in stark contrast to the rough surfaces of the room.
The movie's attention is spread out, as Joy's parents (played by Joan Allen and William H. Macy) have to cope with their daughter's return and the revelation that she had a child with her rapist. It is particularly difficult for Joy, as she has to cope with adjusting to a different family and the media circus surrounding her.
There are a few moments in the film's slightly weaker second half where Jack becomes a little too understanding and seemingly the only sane person in the whole family, and Abrahamson has to once again look for a way to exit. Thankfully, he manages to get away before the film becomes too sentimental or bogged down by psychological or familial concerns.
‘Room’ might sound grim, but the ultimate message is hopeful. It avoids the pitfalls of sensationalising the story, but ultimately, it's the story of two people surviving a terrible experience and trying to come to terms with the life that has been denied them. It's one of the few instances where a faithful adaptation actually worked, and both Larson and Tremblay are talents to keep a lookout for.