There are minor spoilers for Room in this review, although they are all revealed in the trailer. If you want to know nothing, you should probably stop here. It’s brilliant, go see it.
To call Room harrowing is the mother of all understatements. At the start of the film, we find Brie Larson’s Ma living in a garden shed barely bigger than a closet, imprisoned by ‘Old Nick’ who kidnapped her seven years previously. In that time, she has grown to be dependent on him and has also had his child, Jack, who is now five years old. Despite the circumstances of his birth, she has grown fiercely protective of him, letting Nick nowhere near him and raising him best she can in their horrifying circumstances.
And yet, despite that unimaginable setup, Room is a beautiful film. It follows Ma and Jack as they survive and then finally escape their confinement and have to readjust to a life on the outside. Something which turns out to be not quite as easy as it first seems. The heart of that beauty comes from the relationship between Ma and Jack. Brie Larson and Jacob Tremblay have been charming journalists across the world due to their offset chemistry and it shines through on screen. There is genuine affection there and it turns small moments into something special.
Which is all aided by the fact that the two of them are incredible. Larson is already receiving comparisons to Jennifer Lawrence and in particular her performance in Winter’s Bone and while there are parallels, it feels more like the natural next step from her own work in Short Term Twelve. Ma, who we later discover is called Joy, is a woman placed in a tough situation making the most of what she has. She’s strong but also weak, at times retreating to her bed rather than having to face the life she lives. Larson looks like a woman who has been to hell and back and who is just determined to get through the next 24 hours.
Tremblay meanwhile, is a revelation. At only nine years old he is a captivating onscreen presence. Viewing the world through eyes clouded by innocence and confused by this huge world that he never even knew existed. A scene where he meets a dog for the first time, after having created an imaginary one for himself in his early years, might be one of my favourite pieces of cinema in a long time. And I don’t think that’s just because of my love of all things four-legged and fluffy.
Room is at times a tough watch, an uncompromising story that looks at the very worst of humanity and how it twists and hurts those around it. It deals with mental illness and abuse and even if it does take them to extreme examples, it does so without ever leaving behind reality. However, it is also a touching mother and son story. A look at how two people can form a bond in the worst of circumstances and how that bond can help them face a world they are not quite ready to deal with.