Review: ‘Room’ is as Captivating as it is Devastating

room review

This review contains mild spoilers that are also revealed by the trailer. If you haven’t seen the trailer and don’t want anything about Room to be spoiled for you, then you should click away now, 

Room was directed by Lenny Abrahamson and is based on the novel of the same name by Emma Donoghue. She also wrote the screenplay for this adaptation, which stars Brie Larson and Jacob Tremblay as a mother and son forced into captivity before the son’s birth.

The film begins by skipping its explanation for why this mother and son are trapped in what they call “Room.” Instead, we watch them live their daily routines within the harsh confines of a world that feels smaller with every scene.

For that reason, many will enjoy the first half of Room the most, because that sense of discovery and dread holds as you realize how tiny their living space is. Of course, it will also make you yearn for their escape, making Room a clenching thriller on par with the drug wars of Sicario.

room review

As the trailer reveals, “Ma” and “Jack” do manage to escape, and a second “movie” picks up as a pseudo sequel for they must adjust to life outside of Room. Strangely, this is where the film’s most devastating moments occur, mostly because Donoghue has chosen to present this as a fictional story.

She portrays the darkest aspects of Ma and Jack, raising questions we wouldn’t dare ask (out loud) if they were based on real people. This makes Room the boldest risk-taker I’ve seen all year, as it challenges how we perceive victims of major tragedies.

Room strikes a delicate balance between hope and despair that other well-intentioned movies tend to fall short of, as it can be difficult to keep any movie from overwhelming with too much of either extreme. That said, several moments drag on a bit, and some of the narrated exposition actually sheds light on how the second act is a little too slow compared to its superior beginning and end. But that might be Abrahamson’s intention, as it clearly illustrates what we’re supposed to glean from the new life of these characters.

What truly surprised me about Room, however, was its score. Do yourself a favor and look up “New End” by Stephen Rennicks, as well as the rest of this film’s soundtrack. It is my favorite of the year so far, surpassing both Inside Out and Paddington. It might even be my favorite score of the last two years.

I wasn’t surprised by Larson’s Oscar-worthy performance. Since Short Term 12, many like myself have been waiting for the actor to get the attention she deserves as a serious performer. And Room is easily her best movie yet. She conveys multiple, conflicting emotions throughout, allowing every decision she makes to feel earned and inevitable, but also sympathetic. I’m not sure I could picture any other actor disappearing into this role.

room review

And Jacob Tremblay is a revelation, surpassing the also-talented Abraham Attah from Beasts of No Nation as the most promising child actor of the year. It astounds me how well nine-year-old Tremblay can act at his age, portraying a young child who must adjust to a world where he is no longer the master of everything around him. It’s a subtle, heartbreaking, and even joyous performance.

Grade: A

While it suffers from seemingly intentional pacing issues, Room is one of the best movies of the year and a drama that deserves to be remembered for a long time.

Extra Credits

  • Seriously, it’s called “New End.” Look it up.
  • I should also mention that Room is an artful movie, and thankfully so. Some of its most pleasant moments come from the imagery that rhymes the first and third acts, including snowfall and simple moments in the backyard.
  • Abrahamson also directed Frank, the musical dramedy I fell in love with last year. Room is certainly proving that the Irish filmmaker is one of cinema’s best.
  • Keep an eye on the ending credit for Brie Larson. It’s a nice touch.
  • A24 Films is having an incredible 2015. They’ve released While We’re YoungEx MachinaThe End of the Tour, and Room, which are all among the top films of the year.

For a more in-depth look at Room, come back this Sunday for the Now Conspiring podcast, where we’ll discuss this and other new releases.

I’m Jon and thanks for reading this. You can subscribe to my posts by clicking “Follow” in the right sidebar. Or just say hey on Twitter! @JonNegroni

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6 Replies to “Review: ‘Room’ is as Captivating as it is Devastating”

  1. “New End” is beautiful. Awesome recommend!

  2. The book wrecked me. The movie will probably leave me in a heap on the floor. Can’t wait.

    • Wrecked you in a good or bad way?

      • In a good way. It was from a unique perspective and was so insightful.

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  4. This movie was a train wreck.

    I fast forwarded through it, and I NEVER do that (except maybe with bad porn).

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