Room (2015)

First published by Real Crime Magazine

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The latest film from director Lenny Abrahamson (Frank, What Richard Did, Garage) is most easily defined by what it is not. Room evokes the recently unearthed cases of men (like Josef Fritzl or Ariel Castro) who, having kidnapped and falsely imprisoned young women, went on to father children by them – but is in fact a fiction, adapted from the best-selling 2010 novel of the same name by Emma Donoghue (who also wrote the film’s script). It recalls Markus Schleinzer’s Michael (2011), but tells its tale from the perspective of the confined boy rather than his captor. And it is a little like the 2015 US television sitcom Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, only without the comedy.

The irony is that the world of 5-year-old Jack (Jacob Trembley) is defined rather precisely by what it is: the single room of a sound-proofed shed that he has occupied with his Ma (Brie Larson) ever since he was born. Herself abducted by ‘Old Nick’ (Sean Bridgers) when she was 17, and regularly raped, Ma does her best to raise Jack well in extremely straitened circumstances, even as she protects him from the horror of their shared reality by discouraging any notions of a different, normalised ‘outside’ – much as the skylight above (the room’s only window) both frames and blinkers Jack’s view.

The ensuing film is many things: a survival story, a locked-room coming-of-ager, an escapist drama of dysfunction, and a chronicle of mental as well as physical imprisonment – but most importantly of all, it is a crime picture that marginalises both crime and offender as just part of the furniture for a complex, loving bond between mother and son. Abrahamson’s direction is taut and claustrophobic, and the performances from Larson and Trembley might aptly be described as ‘breakout’.

Anton Bitel