Jack is a young boy of 5 years old who has lived all his life in one room. He believes everything within it are the only real things in the world. But what will happen when his Ma suddenly tells him that there are other things outside of Room?

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After seven years of captivity within a soundproofed, suburban shed, Ma (Brie Larson) has almost lost hope. Yet each day, she tries to make a normal life for her five-year-old son, Jack (Jacob Tremblay), a beautiful long-haired child who is no less loved for being the result of the repeated and ongoing rapes by Ma’s captor, ‘Old Nick’ (Sean Bridgers, who remains a shadowy, half-seen figure). Born in the shed – where the only window is a skylight – Jack knows no other life, and no other world except ‘Room’ and its dingy contents, which he greets cheerfully in a sing-song voice each day: “Good morning bed. Good morning Plant, Good Morning Lamp.” There’s also a camp stove, a bath, an old television and a wardrobe, where Jack curls up and pretends to sleep during Old Nick’s visits.

Ma has chosen not to tell Jack about the wider world because she doesn’t want him to know what he’s missing. So she makes Room as warm and wonderful as she can, decorating it with eggshell garlands and makeshift artwork, filling it with stories and songs and games. She looks after their health with vitamin pills and exercise routines. But the strain of the situation shows on her young face (she was kidnapped at 19) and she’s clearly fighting the ordinary despair of relentless motherhood as well as the special horror of her situation. Then, she sees a chink of light, a daring escape plan that depends on Jack to play along. The scene in which this is enacted is truly heart-in-mouth. 

Room is directed by Lenny Abrahamson (Frank), and written by Emma Donoghue, who adapted it from her 2010 Booker-nominated novel inspired by the real life Fritzl case of a woman who gave birth to a number of children in captivity. In itself, the story is intriguing, suspense-filled and rich in dramatic possibility. The wonder of this visually stunning and emotionally gut-punching film is that it gives us a whole other movie in its second and third acts, when mother and son must confront the outside world.

Ma’s parents (Joan Allen and William H. Macy) struggle to accept the sudden appearance of a grandson born through rape. Pale and grumpy after years alone, Ma (now known by her name, ‘Joy’) finds her parents as irritating as any young woman might, and she’s blinded by a curious, noisy media clamouring to ask her difficult questions about her mothering. Meanwhile, the small, strange Jack – a boy who’s never had a playmate, patted a dog or built a Lego house – often yearns to be back in Room, where he had his mother to himself, and his world was warm, ordered and surprisingly rich. Credit must go to cinematographer, Danny Cohen (The Danish Girl), for depicting the small space from the perspective of the child – huge one minute and tiny the next, often magical, with clouds rushing across the skylight. 

The intelligence of the writing and the skill of the filmmaking are evident in the way the story and the characters keep opening up over changes in location and time, while retaining coherence and integrity. The move from inside to outside is as jolting and agoraphobic as it needs to be. In lesser hands the film could have lost its energy at the point where Joy and Jack are ‘safe’, but here we see a danger of different kind: the threat of emotional disintegration from sudden shock. 

At the heart of Room is the tenderness and interdependence of mother and son. The nuanced, believable performances of the very young Tremblay and the wonderful Brie Larson (who won a Golden Globe and an Oscar nomination for the role) bring to life a bond that is repeatedly tested and affirmed. 

Room could have been a horror film, thriller or melodrama, but with elements from each of these genres, it’s something much quieter and more profound: transporting and uplifting, it’s a work that enlarges the viewer’s emotional world.

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Details

1 hour 57 min
In Cinemas 28 January 2016,