paul’s review published on Letterboxd:
When I heard of the premise for Room, my mind immediately went to the 1963 John Fowles novel The Collector (which was revamped into a very creepy 1965 film starring Terrance Stamp and Samantha Eggers).
While both involve the abduction and subsequent imprisonment of a young woman, Room allows the more overt sexual angle into the mix (basically because technology has advanced to things like keypad locks, which allows the captor the freedom to interact with the captive without having to worry about her escape, since only he has the pass code).
It is impossible to review the film without revealing too much of the plot, so, be forewarned.
Where Room differs from the Collector is that in the latter all the interplay is psychological; a cat and mouse game between captive and captor. There is no outside world – only the world that exists between the two characters. In Room we get to see hints of the trauma of the others involved, especially that of the girl’s parents who eventually separate due to the overwhelming stress of losing their daughter in such a heinous fashion. This is all made clear in the second half of the film when, after 7 years of imprisonment, the now 24 year old young woman and her 5 year old son finally gain their freedom. But are they truly free? The Room still haunts them and their ordeal follows them everywhere as the media wants their pound of flesh; imprisoning them within the home of the girl’s mother. In a direct indictment of the media, the girl (Brie Larson, who won an Oscar for her performance) agrees to do a 60 minute type TV interview in order to raise money. The woman interviewer then skewers her, calling her a selfish woman and bad mother for not insisting that the child be dropped off at a hospital doorstep, claiming it would have been “better for the child”.
Further tempering Brie’s “freedom” is the fact that her father (in a brief but effective role by Wm. H. Macy) cannot get past the fact that the abductor is the child’s father. His refusal to accept the child comes off as callous, but is certainly grounded in reality.
What really makes this film click is that it is grounded by the observations of the 5 year old. How would you explain things like TV to a young child whose entire world view is held within a 10x10 room? Jacob Trembley plays the child – full of typical petulance and yet capable of a certain level of understanding. After their escape, his psychologist tells Brie that she was fortunate to have not waited longer in trying to escape, as the child is still “plastic” (meaning malleable and still able to adapt). Jacob in no uncertain terms tells the doctor that he isn’t plastic, he’s real!
There’s so much going on under the surface here and the screenplay by Emma Donoghue, based on her novel, does a wonderful job of hinting at all the turmoil roiling just out of view – especially with the character of the abductor. Through subtle hints you get the idea that this is in reality a weak man, something that saves the rationale of the scenes of the escape. While on the surface one would perhaps expect him to have not trusted Brie and checked out to see for certain that the child was dead, but he was already convinced that he was sick, and being a coward didn’t want to look upon a dead child. Further, when confronted by a passerby while trying to corral Jacob in his escape attempt – he panics and flees, where someone stronger and more rational may have tried to talk his way out of the situation.
In all, a fine film. Director Lenny Abrahamson delivers this often difficult screenplay with a sure hand, using different camera angles and perspectives to keep the small room from becoming too static, all while giving you just the right amount of claustrophobia. His Oscar nomination was well deserved as was the Best Picture nomination.