Doom and ROOM

Movie review: ROOM

Irish director Lenny Abrahamson uses carefully constructed frames to bring Emma Donoghue’s story of confinement to the big screen, finding concrete results with a careful pour of emotion and a gifted young talent



Starring: Brie Larson, Jacob Tremblay, Joan Allen, William H. Macy

Directed by: Lenny Abrahamson

Running time: 118 minutes

MPAA Rating: Restricted

Movie review: ROOM Brie Larson, Jacob Tremblay

Jacob Tremblay in the movie ROOM

By Katherine Monk

ROOM. Even the word stands in isolation. There is no “The” to give it a sense of meaning, nor any descriptive to give it a sense of occasion. It is “ROOM:” A word, a place, an idea of structure unto itself.

Based on Emma Donoghue’s bestseller, and adapted for the screen by the writer alone, ROOM has one central challenge before it even begins. We’re largely stuck in one place: one room.

Without any view to the larger world or a context to work with, director Lenny Abrahamson (Frank) introduces us to Ma (Brie Larson) and Jack (Jacob Tremblay), a mother and son who appear to be survivors of some apocalyptic event.

They are in a brick-lined room with only one source of light from above. They exercise, watch television and eat. But it’s clear they cannot leave. The only thing we don’t know is why.

Abrahamson makes the most of these initial scenes, successfully setting a science-fiction tone, even though everything we see in front of us looks familiar, and vaguely of our era.

It’s where the movie either succeeds or fails, because in order to really get the most out of ROOM, you have to enter an altered state. Reality has to shrink down to the size of a tiny little box designed specifically for humans. It can be a shelter, but also a cage.

For the first chunk, ROOM keeps us guessing as to which one it is – but even though it can answer the question with absolute certainty from a plot perspective through the denouement, it can’t answer the larger spiritual question of what ROOM really is, because even though we begin to see more rooms, our central characters remain trapped.

It’s such a heavy metaphor, you keep wondering if it was originally produced for the Danish stage with only a table, chair and chalk lines. Certainly, if it had been left in the hands of Lars von Trier, it would have been that, and less.

So we are grateful it was Irish director Lenny Abrahamson, the genius behind Frank, who took on the significant challenge of bringing some air into ROOM.

In the first act, he opens a window of suspense. In the last, he creates a draft with delicate drama. It couldn’t have been easy, because you can sometimes feel a hint of manufactured wind: Scenes that feel a little too arranged, and actions that seem unfathomable.

There’s a lurching quality to the whole film that can be distracting as the characters wander off and the focus shifts, but it still works magic because we buy into the point of view: We buy into Jack, a young man who knows nothing of the world other than the room he grew up in.

Beautifully played by Canadian actor Jacob Tremblay, Jack’s innocence becomes an extension of character – the metaphysical force capable of reckoning with ROOM, the symbol of all things human, and our dark desire to contain, own and ultimately control things and others.

Without a hint of affectation, or a single off beat, Tremblay becomes a capable vessel for our emotions when everyone else starts to look too weak or flawed to root for, and as a result, ROOM’s dramatic dimensions get a lot bigger.

We’re not stuck in some existentialist cube of theatrics. We’re getting the chance to experience our world for the first time, and see it for the bizarre, foreign and frequently false place it can be – but it only works because we feel love for Jack.

Jack becomes our emotional eyeballs, allowing us to see all the empty space between us. We channel him. But we react to the rest of the characters, first by judging them, then through forgiveness – allowing us to go through a similar arc as those in the film.

Joan Allen is predictably spectacular, and the mother-daughter scenes between her and Brie Larson are so good they make you weep—and not just because they’re supposed to.

Abrahamson craftily uses ROOM to measure the space between us. Using love as his rule, the director maps a large part of the human experience with very few steps – and miraculously finds redemption in every corner.

As metaphor, ROOM is highly satisfying because it plays out a significant philosophical conundrum about the nature of reality. What if the only thing we knew was one room? And what if our understanding of Earth and our place in the universe were the same thing?

ROOM is as much about everything we see and feel as much as it’s about everything we don’t, which means from a dramatic point of view, it could present some frustration as the characters are forced into unnatural places.

Then again, that’s the whole point of ROOM – it may be four walls and a roof, but it’s not natural. The only room that really matters, and offers true shelter, is the little manger you make in your heart for others.

It’s a sunny theme indeed, but be ready. ROOM is a dark place.



THE EX-PRESS, Oct. 23, 2015



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Movie Review: ROOM-- Irish director Lenny Abrahamson uses carefully constructed frames to bring Emma Donoghue's story of confinement to the big screen.

2 Replies to "Doom and ROOM"

  • kmoexpress October 27, 2015 (6:07 pm)

    hi EWick.
    Thanks! And the movie only opened select cities last Friday, it will open at some Cineplex near you this Friday…. probably Fifth Ave.

  • kmoexpress October 27, 2015 (6:06 pm)

    From: E.Wick
    Subject: Katharine Monk’s movie review “Room”

    Message Body:
    Great review Katherine! I read the book. Now I’d like to see the movie. It’s listed as being released in Vancouver theaters October 30th. The big question is Which One & Where???? Lots of reviews but NO theater mentioned anywhere, because I’ve checked everywhere. I’ve read that it is one of the most under rated movies of 2015. I can see why, it’s like hens teeth, hard to find.

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