Incredible performances – yes. A brilliant script – absolutely. Stunning visual effects, a killer soundtrack and ambitious art direction and cinematography all play a part too.
However, we would argue one non-negotiable feature of a great movie is that it demands to be thought about long after you leave the cinema.
Room certainly ticks that box.
Based on the 2010 novel of the same name by Irish-Canadian author Emma Donoghue, the story is reminiscent of the harrowing cases of Josef Fritzl in Austria and Ariel Castro in the United States.
Breakout star Brie Larson plays Joy Newsome, a woman who is kidnapped at the age of 17 by a man known only as Old Nick and imprisoned in a squalid shed for seven years.
During her time in captivity as a sex slave to Old Nick, she gives birth to a son, Jack, who she is forced to raise in their tiny living space.
We pick up Joy’s story on Jack’s fifth birthday. He is full of wonder and enthusiasm, whereas her tolerance for her deteriorating circumstances is waning. She occasionally spends entire days in bed completely depressed and hopeless and must contend with dental rot and vitamin deficiencies caused by her claustrophobic surrounds.
To protect Jack from the truth, Joy has told him nothing exists outside of their prison, which they call ‘Room’. Each night, Joy hides Jack away in a wardrobe to protect him from the nightly rape she must endure at the hands of his father – who he knows only as a mysterious man who brings finite food supplies and the occasional “Sunday treat”.
The story is told primarily from the perspective of Jack, who is remarkably optimistic and curious about his limited surroundings. It’s clear his advanced mental state is due to Joy’s insistence to raise him as best as she can. Together they read books, do yoga, sprint from one side of ‘Room’ to the other and do arts and crafts.
It’s no secret that the duo manage to escape the room – most of the trailers for the film give this away immediately – and, in fact, what comes after their dramatic return is the most compelling part of the movie.
After all, how do two people whose existence has consisted entirely of just, well, existing adapt to a world offering so much more than that?
The answer isn’t an easy one to process and that’s perhaps why Room has captivated so many audiences.
Part fairytale, part nightmare, it’s held together by the performances of its two leads – Larson is entirely authentic as Joy, while nine-year-old actor Jacob Tremblay is an absolute revelation as Jack.
Like a baby Jake Gyllenhaal, he is impossible to tear your eyes from and delivers a wider range of nuanced emotions than most actors exhibit in their entire career.
Larson is tipped to take the Oscar for Best Actress, and deservedly so. Her subtle yet powerful performance is reminiscent of a young Jennifer Lawrence in her first Oscar-nominated role as the beleaguered Ree Dolly in 2010’s Winter’s Bone. Based on Lawrence’s subsequent career trajectory, this won’t be the last time we see Larson as a leading lady.
Room is no walk in the park, but the moments of light among all the darkness are far better than anything an action-packed blockbuster could deliver.