“Bye Room.” -Jack
Perhaps the most impressive aspect of Lenny Abrahamson’s Room is the way that the filmmaker was able to take material that could have so easily been sensationalistic and transform it into something subtle and human. It’s a tabloid tale pitched as touchingly small drama and boasts what is finally the breakout role of Brie Larson’s ever-promising career (with the Oscar to prove it). Make no mistake, Room is not an easy watch. Yet, it’s also not merely the shock n’ misery show that this same story could have been in another filmmaker’s hands.
Room is told from the perspective of a five-yea- old boy (Jacob Tremblay). The “room” of the title refers to the only world that he’s ever known. You see, his mother (Brie Larson) was kidnapped at 17 at held captive in a shed ever since by a disgusting man known only as Old Nick (Sean Bridges), who is secretly his father. Despite those horrors that the audience is made all too aware of, the film has an almost wistful quality in these early sequences thanks to being told through the child’s imaginative perspective. It’s all a game and the way Larson has shielded her young son from reality ensures that he’s unaware of anything being wrong and even thinks that the television that is their window to the outside world shows a fantasyland of dreams. Of course, reality creeps in for viewers every time the camera pans away from the playful child to the battered, yet surviving Larson.
Eventually, Larson plots an escape. To do so she has to heartbreakingly peal back her blanket of lies and make her son run out to the world to find help. Thankfully it works and the bulk of the film plays out as the two protagonists struggle to reintegrate themselves into the world with the help of Larson’s family (Joan Allen, Tom McCamus, and William H. Macy). Obviously, that’s all pretty tough stuff and yet somehow Abrahamson has crafted a film that’s warm and even inspiring. It’s not a tale of a victim, but one of survival and while none of the ugly truths are ignored, they aren’t dwelled on or viewed as insurmountable obstacles. Instead, the horrors of Room are the springboard for growth and strength.
That might sound a little mushy and at times the movie certainly is, yet the film overcomes it through a clever use of perspective. As with Emma Donoghue’s successful novel (she also wrote the screenplay), the whole thing unfolds through the eyes of an innocent and often blissfully unaware child. In the first half of the film, that adds a layer of fantasy that prevents reality from becoming overwhelming. In the second half, that keeps the audience in the corner or on the outside of big emotional scenes that would drift into melodrama in the sleazy TV movie version of this sort of story that’s been told far too many times before. It also makes the protagonist the most complicated character and erases any sense of ambiguity over how to feel about his unfortunate parentage. He’s an innocent and a hero rather than a victim.
Young Jacob Tremblay is absolutely remarkable in the central role, beautifully naturalistic and completely unencumbered by any child actor theatrics. It helped that the character’s misunderstanding of his circumstance meant that the young actor didn’t have to deal with the ickiest and darkest aspects of the story, but either way the kid is a major find and talent. The veteran supporting players like Allen and Macy are all as strong as expected in limited roles, but the movie really belongs to Larson. It’s a heartbreaking and devastating performance that she dives into without overstating or overplaying a thing. She’s strong, yet desperate. Scarred, yet hopeful. And above all else, she has to carry the weight of the harshest emotional aspects of the tale, which she does with ease. She deserved all of the awards and accolades. No question.
For the most part Abrahamson wisely lets the actors take center stage and makes his movie about people and performance. He does an impressive job of finding fresh staging and composition in the claustrophobic first half of the film and even if he leans a little too hard on camera tricks to capture Tremblay’s first glimpses of a larger world, it’s never overwrought. Sure, there are times when the film gets a little soapy and the score often drifts too far into manipulation. Yet, overall it’s difficult not to be impressed by what Abrahamson and co. were able to accomplish. Room was a pleasant surprise in 2015, proving to be a far better accomplishment than anyone could have expected. It deserves the praise it’s received, but hopefully the hype won’t kill it for audiences going in expecting something special in the future. Room is not a perfect or pleasant movie, but it is a powerful one well worth experiencing.
Room looks and sounds fantastic on Blu-ray. Granted it’s a small, performance driven indie with little spectacle. Yet, within those limitations the film shines in HD. Lenny Abrahamson employs some interesting techniques to enhance the claustrophobic confinement of the first chunk of the story as well as the eye straining brightness of the outside world in the second half that really benefit from this Blu-ray presentation. The score and sound design are similarly employed to pull the audience into the characters’ perspective that translates well to the lossless audio track.
The Blu also comes packed with some nice special features, especially for a modest indie production made by people who had no idea they were making an awards contender. First up are a trio of special features kicking off with a 12 minute making-of doc featuring interviews with Lenny Abrahamson, Emma Donahue, Brie Larson, Jacob Tremblay, and a few others discussing the transition of the book to screen and the tricky nature of the subject matter. Though it might be brief, the featurette approaches the motivations behind making the film with surprising depth for this sort of EPK (Electronic Press Kit).
Next up is a 9 minute feature called 11X11 specifically discussing the confined titular setting and the design/technical/performance challenges therein.
Then the confusingly titled Building Room features which is about how the set was shipped to Los Angeles for various publicity events. It’s fine, but pretty superfluous. It’s a shame that the footage taken for these three features wasn’t stretched and combined into a longer documentary because they only really scratch the surface discussing the movie.
Thankfully, there’s an audio commentary from Abrahamson, as well as the film’s cinematographer, editor, and production designer to provide a longer discussion. As you’d imagine from the people involved, it’s mostly a technical/production track, but still very much worth a listen.
Does This Deserve a Spot on Your Dork Shelf ?
It might be a small indie film, but it’s a stylish and beautifully made one. So it’s certainly work tracking down this release even if it won’t exactly be a show off disc for your home theater. So Room didn’t exactly get an overflowing Blu-ray, but it’s a gorgeous presentation and with a nice collection of extras. That’ll do just fine.