Movie Review: ‘ROOM’ – A Harrowing Tale With Pure and Emotional Pay-Off


James “Cole” Clay // Film Critic

ROOM | 118 min | R
Director: Lenny Abrahamson 
Cast: Brie Larson, Jacob Tremblay, Joan Allen and William H. Macy

Perspective in film is an important aspect. Changing whose eyes the audience experiences the world through would be as drastic a decision as changing the director. Narrators can be unreliable– we’ve seen that time and time again. But what if we get the chance to perceive the universe through the gaze of a five-year old-boy whose life has existed entirely in a single location. The answer gives a whole new meaning to the phrase, “a child like sense of wonder.”

The film ROOM, based on the novel of the same name by Emma Donoghue and directed by Lenny Abrahamson, shows the life of Ma (Brie Larson) and her son Jack (Jacob Tremblay). Why they are in “room” should be left up to the imagination until viewing, but let’s just say it’s not good. Jack refers to the space simply as “room” because this is home and all that he knows. Under the guidance of his Ma, he has an inquisitive outlook on life (like most children), but there’s something special about him that’s almost seems other worldly.

The atmosphere of ROOM floats from scene to scene like we’re on a cloud on another planet. Abrahamson takes this tiny space and uses movie magic and his skills as a filmmaker to craft a world inside of a world that the audience along with Jack gets to discover for themselves– Even if it is just a skylight, a dingy bed and a few pieces of furniture. To adults, this world is a claustrophobic little slice of hell, but to Jack he’s got a great wide open world to explore.

Luckily, ROOM doesn’t fall prey to the insufferable child in a lead role motif that is scattered all around many dramatic properties. Tremblay is truly marvelous– we are seeing the burgeoning career of a young actor that could go places. But, again, he is all but six-years-old. It could have been the directing, the writing, or his relationship with co-star Larson that brought out this performance, but nonetheless it’s remarkable.

Larson will be in the Oscar race for Best Actress for her work in this film. No question, this is the role she has been looking for since she was snubbed in the 2013 under-seen film SHORT TERM 12. Her Ma is a normal woman with memories of the past, from her mother and father to the innocuous friends she had in high school. Larson is the cure for grounding the film in what could have been an overwrought maze of hokey melodrama. Her work here is brave, raw and unforgettable.

ROOM is filled with curiosity that excites and exhausts all of our emotions simultaneously. The bond between a young boy and his mother is a tricky relationship to capture on film, but the nuanced levels of love are in a rarely pure form here. It helps that Donoghue is developing her own work for the screen. She understands the complicated relationship between these characters that doesn’t condescend to the child, or the trauma that they both experienced.

ROOM opens today.

About author

James C. Clay

James Cole Clay has been working as a film critic for the better part of a decade covering new releases, blu ray reviews and the occasional drive-in cult classic. His writing is dedicated to discovering social politics through diverse voices, primarily focusing on Women In Film and LGBTQ cinema.