Room movie full length review - There's not enough room...space...
Room was written in 2010 by Emma Donoghue and through close collaboration with director Lenny Abrahamson, who had written a letter and convinced her of his understanding of the novel and its characters, it was finally brought to the big screen in 2015.
An immediate difference that the medium brings is the removal of the five year old first-person perspective of Jack who views 'Room' through his young, inexperienced lens. A novel's perspective can hide and obscure certain details depending on how and from where it is told - when Richard Adams' Watership Down was adapted into animation, it lost the nightmarish quality of encountering phenomena such as trains and cars through the rabbit's eyes, and in this film we also know from the start their predicament. But what is lost in perspective is supplemented through cinematic features, primarily in the cinematography by Danny Cohen. The first half of the film, comprised solely of scenes of life within the shed known as Room, are shot with long lenses, which thrust the camera up close and personal, compressing the space between foreground and background and visualising the claustrophobia of their existence. The shallow-focus brought about by the lens is particularly essential as the camera centres clearly on Jack and Joy, seeking to maintain the illusion of infinity that he has been raised to believe. An early crucial scene aligns the camera alongside Jack as he goes through his morning routine by greeting each inhabitant of Room, the frame bouncing from closeup to closeup of fingers brushing lamp, plant, TV and toilet. Cohen returns to the same routine in the final scene but now framed as a wide shot, and the imaginary space of Room is shrunken to a mere ten by ten shed.
The film retains an air of mystery because like Jack, we are made aware of the situation piece by piece. The first sighting of Uncle Nick is in the pitch darkness of night, and we can merely hear his muffled voice as we are perched next to Jack in his tiny bed. The next night he gains a little bravery, and peeks through the shutters of the wardrobe to see the vague outlines of a man in bed with his ma. In the next night he steps out, and then only finally does Abrahamson allow us a glimpse of the person who has imprisoned them inside the shed. Room shows to us the intricate and desperate lengths to which a mother will attempt to shield her child from the dangers of truth, and how Joy wields the inherent wonders and imagination of Jack to assist this process (she's even made up a story to convince him to help her scream for help through the vents each day). Through their dialogue we catch pieces of the mythos and story that she has painstakingly created to give some semblance of a life, an education, a healthy mind and body and a family for Jack, and how his leaving of the wardrobe and the loss of Nick's job demand the necessity of 'unlying' and finally confessing the truth of their life.
Viewers will inevitably discover, through the trailers or through mathematical deduction, that they do make it out of Room and back into the real world, but the escape scene remains one of the best scenes of the year. Stephen Rennicks' score, which has been up until that moment comprised of whimsical tracks designed to illustrate the wondrous imagination of Jack, suddenly cues in a thudding, rhythmic beating of the bass drum, which slowly becomes one with Jack's and the audience's heartbeat and gradually rises in tempo. The open expanse of sky becomes an infinite tapestry, stretching the boundaries of the frame and beyond the comprehension of Jack's little brain. The way in which he stumbles and is almost reclaimed by the grasp of Jack, the way in which we scream at the screen as he forgets the name of his ma, and the agonising wait in which the police piece together his whispers and rush over to the shed make this sequence taut with tension. By the time of their reunion I was emotionally and physically drained.
But there is also the challenge of maintaining momentum after this hair-raising escape, and the lull in its aftermath. Abrahamson wisely resists the obvious and exploitative temptation of focusing on Nick and his outcome, concerned not with punishment but rather the healing process of the victims. We see Joy, now without the immediate day-to-day struggle of survival on the inside, collapse and withdraw into the trauma of the years inside the shed, but also the regret of Jack's early years. Larson is a marvel. A question from a reporter insinuates something that she has been trying for years to deny (that she could not give Jack the life he truly deserved), and in the weariness and desperation etched in her face, she makes us believe that the stories and mythos of Room were important coping mechanisms for her as they were for Jack. In Short Term 12, Larson's past of abuse was a convenient mirroring for the youth she cared for (and resulted in cutesy scenarios like following behind at a certain length instead of actual engagement), but here she makes the guilt come from within a place deeply buried for the sake of herself and her son. Tremblay's musings occasionally become a little cloy for the subject matter ("Meltedy Spoon" or the "strong" in his Samson-length hair), but Larson reigns him and his short temper in with such patience and empathy we often forget that she is merely a teenager herself. Joy's motherhood may not be 'good enough' from outside standards, but she's ma, and they will heal and grow together.