Room – Review ****

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With a limited release last year in the US, you can tell that Room was not expected to surpass the independent and festival circuits. However, this latest film by director Lenny Abrahamson, who delighted many a couple of years ago with Frank, has been getting plenty of international and mainstream attention after bagging four Academy Award nominations: Best Film, Director, Adapted Screenplay and Leading Actress. Based on the book by Emma Donoghue (who also wrote the script), Room is last year’s sweet and sour dish, clearly inspired in real life events and because of that even more powerful. But what could become a cheap manipulative melodrama has been transformed into a Life is Beautiful kind of story, where Donoghue tells what’s happening through the open and imaginative eyes of a 5 year old child.

Jack (Jacob Trembley) and his Ma (Brie Larson) live in Room, locked away by Old Nick. Jack has never left Room, and therefore all of his world is inside – only TV gives him a window to the outside, but one he doesn’t consider real. His insistent questions about what’s around him and a growing despair from Ma lead them to attempt escape. But both Ma and Jack realize there’s nothing scarier than the real world….

Room gains most of its appeal from the way the Room is depicted in the first half of the film, as seen by Jack’s eyes. Abrahamson and cinematographer Danny Cohen (The King’s Speech, The Danish Girl) use long lenses and concentrate all the attention onto the characters, giving a striking contrast with the second half of the film, where there’s space (and light) aplenty and the tone of the film changes dramatically. Together with a detailed art direction and, of course, the dedicated performance of Trembley (so much bigger than his age) and Larson (who gives body and soul to the character, including spending time in isolation and strict diet to better understand Ma) makes Room a subtle yet efficient punch in the stomach, and there’s nothing to be ashamed of if you find yourself crying during it. Not the end, though, because Abrahamson made the bold decision of showing exactly what Stockholm’s syndrome means (in an understated, delicate way), and yes, everything seemed so much simpler when Jack and his Ma were in Room, not having to deal with the press, the germs, the inquiring faces judging Ma for not sacrificing herself for a normal life for her son. The director also creates a thrilling suspense, indebted obviously to how much we care about the characters, even if Ma seems at times to be a pushy, somewhat unstable teenager (because, in the end, that’s what she is).

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It may lack the shine and marketing machine of the other nominees this year, but Room refuses to be locked away and ignored, and is definitely more emotionally engaging than, say, Bridge of Spies or even Brooklyn.  Avoid only if you’ve been suffering from severe dehydration.

Room is in UK cinemas from 15th January 2016.

Sara is originally from Coimbra, Portugal, where she studied Film Studies before moving to London to enrol in film school. Having made her first short film about her neighbour's chickens when she was 9 (a dystopian sci-fi, still her favourite genre), she is now a London-based film director and editor, and also a writer for the Portuguese Take Magazine. She is a huge fan of Lars Von Trier, Krysztof Kiéslowski, and David Lean.