Room review: a woman and her son are held captive by her psychotic abuser

Steve Hogarty
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Dir. Lenny Abrahamson | ★★★★☆

Based on the book by Emma Donoghue, Room is a screenplay adaptation of the gut-wrenchingly bleak story of Joy (Brie Larson), a young woman kidnapped and imprisoned by her psychotic abuser. She shares the tiny, soundproofed space with her spirited and oblivious five-year-old Jack (Jacob Tremblay), whose severely limited understanding of reality stretches only as far as the four walls into which he was born.

The duration and severity of their situation is revealed with deliberate slowness in opening scenes. They follow a routine of waking and exercising by running between two walls. They cook and bathe. Jack’s hair is long, and both of them are thin and pale.

They’ve been here a very long time, and to blissful Jack, “room” is the entire universe, with nothing outside of it but a magical vacuum from which their malevolent captor materialises each night.

Through this fug of hopelessness we still see a piercing sweetness between Joy and Jack, however. Her ongoing nightmare of several years comprises his childhood fairytale reality, and so she shields him from the truth of life outside the box.

Their inevitable escape comes long before the film’s end, and as the developmentally arrested and traumatised Joy is reunited with her family, we see Brie Larson’s performance lift off.

Jack’s painful-to-watch struggle to adapt to his new environment outside of the room in which he was raised is made credible by young Tremblay’s remarkable performance here too. Easily, his is one of the best child performances I’ve seen in film.

Upsetting and uplifting in equal measure, Room takes a cheese grater to your emotions and shaves them down to raw little stubs. An unimaginably tragic story and a tough watch, but one that’s buoyed by a real richness of human spirit.

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