Two big things happened in 2012. An indie film called Short Term 12 introduced us to a terrific talent named Brie Larson, who proved that dramatic strength on screen could be done without any help from a film’s aesthetic tools. And an Austrian film called Michael demonstrated that a story of a person kidnapped in the basement of a house for years can be an extremely disturbing watch. Both the elements combine in director Lenny Abrahamson’s Room, and the results are predictably amazing.
In Room a 24 year old woman named Joy (Larson) lives with her five year old son Jack (Jacob Tremblay) in a tiny shed the child refers to as Room. Seven years ago an unknown man had kidnapped Joy, imprisoned her for the purpose of raping her repeatedly; Jack is the product of one such assault. Jack, however has no idea about all this, and continues to live his life with his mom in Room. The mother tries to keep things as normal as possible, tutoring the child, making sure he never feels like there’s something missing from his life. Every time the kidnapper, referred to as Old Nick turns up in Room to assault Joy, she asks the child to sit in a closet and avert his eyes.
It’s disturbing to say the least, and even more unsettling to know that the film is based on real life incidents. To watch a series of frightening events knowing that someone out there near your home could be subjected to this kind of torture, and probably much more is heart breaking.
And to watch Joy’s attempts of shielding Jack from the horrors of the world he is growing up in is gut wrenching. She has no choice but to keep herself from losing it, for the benefit of her child that she did not even plan to have. Every passing moment you’re bound to think of ways for Joy and her child to escape this horrid place, and every failed attempt puts you in a gloomier mood.
But Room isn’t just about whether they escape the clutches of their kidnapper. There are far more disturbing implications that the film postulates. How would you adapt to the outside world if you’ve been brought up in totally confined environment? For a child, the place he grew up in would always be his home, and being taken away from such a place, no matter how free he is, would probably be difficult to adjust to.
Director Abrahamson, who has earlier made the terrific Frank understands that the audience is by default way ahead of the characters’ fate, so he injects the requisite jump from the second to the third act with a hair raising escape scene. Few scenes in recent cinema have had the kind of nerve-wracking tension and a sense of total suspension from the audience that this scene from Room commands.
If Larson proved that she could hold a candle in Short Term 12, she destroys the competition in Room. To call this her performance a breakout would be an understatement because she plays her role with surprising subtlety while still carrying incredibly strong screen presence. Her character’s dedication of being a mother and the frustration of not wanting to be one comes across so fluidly Larson makes it look easy. It’s only a matter of time until she goes home with an Oscar for this role.
A real disappointment from this year’s Oscar nominations was the snub of young Tremblay whose performance is so believable it’s scary. A big credit for that goes to Abrahamson for being able to direct a child actor in such a movie and extracting such a performance without being able to inform the actor the disturbing aspects of the story. If you haven’t gathered already, Room is a must watch.