There is a lot of darkness in this world. The stories you can read of kidnapping and captivity should just be horror fiction, but unfortunately, a lot of them are true. In recent years, this has become a popular premise from which to craft a story. The BBC recently aired Thirteen, a dark drama following a girl escaping captivity after thirteen years. And Netflix recently managed to get a comedy out of this dark subject with the brilliant Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. But one film, shot in 2014 and released in 2015, has set a pretty high standard in this developing genre. Director Lenny Abrahamson and writer Emma Donoghue (adapting her own novel for the screen) took the harrowing premise of kidnapping and captivity and turned it into one of the most moving and poignant tales of recent years. This is the Oscar-winning Room.
Out now on DVD & Blu-ray, Room is a film of two acts. We open with Joy (Brie Larson) and her five-year-old son Jack (Jacob Tremblay) living together in a squalid old shed they call Room. They share a bed, toilet, bathtub, television, and rudimentary kitchen. Their only source of light is a skylight window above them, and are thus unable to see the outside world – only sky above. They are captives of a man they call Old Nick (Sean Bridgers), Jack's biological father, who abducted Joy seven years prior. Joy tries to stay optimistic for her son, allowing him to believe that only Room and its contents are real and that the rest of the world exists only on television. But while she puts on a smile for him, she suffers from malnutrition, depression and frequent abuse from her captor. This first half is extremely harrowing and difficult to watch, but thanks to phenomenal acting from Larson and Tremblay and some superbly claustrophobic cinematography from Danny Cohen, you can’t take your eyes off it.
It’s no spoiler to say that around the halfway mark, Joy and her son escape this horrible existence and find themselves free. But at first, this isn’t all it is cracked up to be. Joy finds it increasingly difficult to adjust back to old life, while Jack is overwhelmed by a whole new world he never thought was real. This is where Room truly shines. Brie Larson is phenomenal in her Oscar-winning performance as Joy, but the film belongs to Jacob Tremblay. Delivering one of the most mature and moving performances of the year, it’s a crime the young Tremblay didn’t walk away with an Oscar too. That said, he is currently the second youngest performer in the history of cinema to be nominated for a Screen Actors Guild for best supporting actor, so he’s got that going for him which is nice. Outside of Larson and Tremblay, there isn’t a great deal going on in the supporting cast. Sean Bridgers puts in a chillingly brave performance as the captor and Joan Allen is decent, but the great William H. Macy turns up in a completely forgettable performance.
Despite the harrowing subject matter, Room is an inspiring tale. Brie Larson describes the film as "a story of love and freedom and perseverance, and what it feels like to grow up and become your own person". Notice how she doesn’t describe it as a ‘dark drama about captivity’ or a ‘chilling thriller about kidnapping’? Room isn’t about darkness, but about putting darkness behind you. This is something we can all relate to. Sometimes, even when it seems impossible, it is the only way to go forward.
But still, Room is very much a one-watch-wonder. I can’t imagine I’ll ever feel the need to revisit this, nor do I think I would want to. That is in no way a bad thing. Room’s power is incredibly strong but I can imagine it would be just a little bit weaker each passing viewing. But hey, you’re lucky you know such a wonderful company willing to buy DVDs and Blu-rays off you when you’re done with them! Shameless self-promotion…
Room is an incredible film, with two phenomenal performances at its heart. It might be difficult to watch in places, but on the whole, Room is a rewarding experience.
Room gets 4/5.
Room at CeX
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