What a daunting task it must have seemed even to attempt to adapt something like Emma Donoghue’s best-selling novel “Room.” Not that it’s particularly complicated from a narrative standpoint, but the technical challenges that such a project presents would probably be enough to scare off several directors who didn’t have the depth of vision that’s required to make a film whose entire first half takes place in a room that’s a mere 121 square feet. However, these challenges didn’t dissuade director Lenny Abrahamson from giving it his all, and as a result, giving us a rather unique and intriguing cinematic experience.
As the film opens, we meet Joy (Brie Larson) and her five-year-old son Jack (Jacob Tremblay), both of whom are being held captive in a shack they call “Room” by a man referred to only as Old Nick (Sean Bridgers), who is Jack’s father. Joy has been there for the past seven years, while Jack has been there his entire life. Joy has previously told Jack that there is nothing outside of their home, but she does eventually decide to tell him about the world, though this is a concept that he doesn’t fully understand after having spent his entire life in Room.
In an attempt to free Jack, Joy decides to have him fake a fever, so that Old Nick will have to take him to the hospital. However, Old Nick says that he’ll bring antibiotics the next day instead, forcing Joy to change her plan quickly, which results in her rolling Jack up in a rug and having him pretend to be dead. Old Nick falls for their deception, taking Jack outside and transporting him in the back of his truck. Jack manages to escape and, after finding help, is reunited with his mother. Now that they are both free, Joy must re-adjust to a world that she hasn’t been a part of for seven years, while Jack gets to experience a world that he’s never seen before.
“Room” is another one of those films that presents itself as two distinct halves, except in this case, the first half of Abrahamson’s film gives us something that we rarely ever see in cinema. First off, as mentioned earlier, the story is confined to a space that is a mere 11 feet by 11 feet, which doesn’t leave much in the way of options for the director and cinematographer. However, somehow both Abrahamson and DP Danny Cohen are able to continually make the images feel fresh as the various scenes jump between the bed, closet, sink, bathtub, and other fixtures of Room. It may indeed have been technically daunting, but obviously these two were more than up to the challenge.
Aside from the technical challenges, being in an enclosed space also no doubt created challenges for the actors as well, especially in terms of continually keeping the audience engaged. On that front, it’s doubtful that they could have done a better casting job than they did with Brie Larson and Jacob Tremblay. Larson pours her heart and soul into ever line, always seeming on the brink of breaking down during this very difficult time, but always soldiering on because of her love for her son. Her powerful performance is one of the main reasons that the film works so well, making it no surprise at all that she recently won the Oscar for Best Actress.
Then there’s young Tremblay, who is able to capture all of the wonder, confusion, disbelief, and astonishment of a young boy whose entire perspective of the world completely changes in such a short amount of time. His chemistry with Larson is absolutely perfect, presenting a pair that not only seems like they truly have been together for years, but also one for which the mother-son relationship appears to be genuine.
With so much going for the first half, including a tension-filled narrative, you would think that the second half would have no problem keeping up, especially since there is quite literally an entire world for these characters to explore. However, while the second half does manage to be decent overall, it’s here where the film starts to show a bit of weakness, mainly in the fact that there just isn’t much done with the story in this section. These two struggle to adjust to the sudden change in their lives, but the compelling narrative that had been so engrossing in the Room portion of the film is suddenly replaced with one that’s less gripping, leaving you waiting for further developments in the story.
Luckily, it’s still held together quite well by the continued excellent performances from Larson and Tremblay, in addition to acting greats Joan Allen and William H. Macy. If only the filmmakers could have found some way to make this half nearly as compelling as the first, then this could have been a truly great film, but at least is does manage to balance out to a pretty good one. Again, this is the kind of adaptation that would seem nearly impossible to pull off considering the limitations of its main set, but the fact that Abrahamson was able to do it this well is rather incredible in itself. Throw in the great ensemble (particularly Larson’s Oscar-winning performance), and you have a film that is easily recommendable, despite an iffy latter half.
“Room” arrives on Blu-ray in a 2.40:1, 1080p High Definition transfer of outstanding quality. The picture is gorgeous and perfectly clear, allowing you to see all of the exquisite detail that went into the film’s main set. The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio is also fantastic, giving you the dialogue and score in great quality. Overall, the film has been given top-notch treatment, leaving you with a wonderful experience.
Audio Commentary with Director Lenny Abrahamson and Crew: The director, editor, DP, and production designer provide a few interesting tidbits about the film, but overall, it’s a rather bland commentary.
Making Room (12 Minutes): A featurette that takes you through how the film got started and the casting process. Unfortunately, it doesn’t go into much depth.
11x11 (9 Minutes): An interesting featurette that explores the creation of the film’s main set.
Recreating Room (4 Minutes): An easily skippable featurette that focuses on rebuilding the set in Los Angeles, intercut with the director and designer discussing it.
With an outstanding, Oscar-winning performance from Brie Larson and a mostly-compelling narrative, “Room” makes for an intriguing and powerful character piece. Its second half may not be able to stand up to the confined and far-more-compelling first half, but thanks to a great ensemble, it still manages to balance out to a very good film overall, one that lingers in the memory for quite some time.
Now available on Blu-ray and DVD.
Follow me on Twitter @BeckFilmCritic and be sure to subscribe for the latest updates.