Saturday, 23 January 2016

Movie Review: Room (2016)



Some films don’t allow themselves that well to my certain brand of introduction. When dealing with something this heart-wrenching, I don’t even want to run the risk of trying to be funny; this deserves better than that. This is Room.

The plot: Five-year-old Jack (Jacob Tremblay) has lived his entire live in the confines of a single room; the only knowledge he has of the outside world comes from the TV in the room and what he is told by his mother Joy (Brie Larson). They are both captives of Old Nick (Sean Bridgers), who kidnapped Joy several years earlier. However, once the opportunity presented itself, they finally managed to escape the confines of ‘Room’. Of course, it was only when they were introduced and re-introduced to the outside world that their real trials begin.

This story was inspired by the infamous Josef Fritzl abuse case and, holy hell, it feels like it. Much like last year’s Beasts Of No Nation, the circumstances of the premise feel even darker because it is being seen through the eyes of a child. Except here, unlike how Agu became corrupted over the course of that film, Jack keeps his innocence throughout. As a result, the opening scene where he says hello to each of the limited items in ‘Room’ and goes about what counts as his normal day with his mother creeps up on the audience in how unsettling it is, and it only gets worse once Old Nick’s role in the story is made more clear. Not entirely clear though, as there are some aspects that are (thankfully) left up to the audience’s imagination yet are detailed more than clearly enough through some naturally spun dialogue. As said dialogue shows a remarkable maternal connection between Joy and Jack, helped by some great acting from Larson and Tremblay respectively, Jack’s narration portrays a worldview that is almost crippling in how haunting it is for a flesh-and-blood human to have such a perspective. It’s like if all the charm was stripped from The Wolfpack and their Tarantino-influenced upbringing, leaving only this Platonic thought experiment turned serial killer’s wet dream.

And yet, with only a minor spin, this entire story turns into a different allegory that, with a moment’s notice, will cause me to piss fire out of sheer irritation. The version that I am most familiar with would be this, although there are a lot of variations of the same idea: An ‘innocent’ story used to try and convey how narrow-minded it is to assume that there is no afterlife or Heaven or whatever you want to call it. These analogies MIGHT work if one of the occupants is put in an oven for not believing as the other does, or if everyone’s lives were lived to their natural completion or if we didn’t have quantifiable evidence that there does exist a reality beyond where the story in question is set. I bring this extremely soap-boxy notion up because, with the film’s frequent mentioning of Heaven and God along with a key scene where Joy, rather unsuccessfully, tries to explain about the outside world to a rather petulant Jack (which is actually how some religious people view explaining their views to those of different beliefs), this feels like it has traces of that same hogwash. If this feels out of place, then realize that it is little thought derailments like this that affect how I end up reviewing a film. Besides, the film itself seems to head off those kind of farces at the pass because we actually get to see what happens when they go into the wider world… and it is here that things get interesting.

Within the confines of ‘Room’, the film has the air of a domestic thriller with sprinkles of the family drama that show what Mommy could have been like if it had a sufficient head on its shoulders. Once they exit Room thanks to a nail-biting bit of questioning from the police, we see the after-effects that such a confinement would have on both a younger and older mind. For Jack, it means a chance to explore and absorb more of the world than he was able to before; he is relatively shy at first, understandably, but he soon begins to acclimatize and accept that the world is bigger than his bedroom. Insert joke about my own living conditions here. It is probably his innocence that allows him to make it out with his sanity intact; if it was Joy who was trapped in there for her entire life and then released, that stage of development definitely wouldn’t allow for such a broadening of horizons.

However, that’s not to say that Joy comes out unscathed either. From what we can gleam, she was taken either right at the end of high school or just after she graduated; five of her more formative years have been stolen from her, not to mention having to deal with raising a child all on her own while making him accept that his entire universe is comprised of a single garden shed. As much as we like to view children as completely innocent and angelic, they can be right hellions on some days; imagine being stuck with one for every single moment of their life for five straight years with no reprieve. Mental strain doesn’t even begin to describe it. Now, all that insecurity about whether or not she has given that child the best start possible, along with mentally re-adjusting to her old life, is brought up to the surface. The result is probably one of the most painful depictions of mental stress I’ve seen, even if it is brought on by an exceptional prick of a talk show host. Seriously, I know that the phrase gets thrown around a lot online nowadays, but there is such a thing as trigger warnings and those lines of questioning were definitely it. Between the both of them, we get a duality that, even if the film dips slightly after they leave Room, carries it all the way through to an immensely satisfying conclusion.

All in all, this is an emotionally exhausting ride, one that never feels like it is overreaching for every tear and shiver it gives. The acting is fantastic, with Larson and Tremblay performing magic as the core duo that anchors the rest of the film, the writing shows tremendous respect for the audience and gives a real sense of discovery and just sheer dread concerning the film’s events, and the cinematography manages to convey both agoraphobia and claustrophobia, sometimes in the exact same scene. Even the confines of the titular Room itself can feel both never-ending and crushingly small. It’s better than Goosebumps because, more so than just pure glee, this reaches a more potent and emotional connection; that, and showing a distinct improvement on one of last year’s worst films gave it some bonus points. However, since this doesn’t have a singular moment that I point to and say “THAT was perfect”, it falls short of The Hateful Eight.

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