A mother and child live in a room. For the child, who has just turned five, there is nothing but space on the outside. The room is his entire universe; his reality. There is Bed, Table, Chair 1 and Chair 2, Bath, Light, Skylight…All named and greeted each morning. They read books about characters like the Count of Monte Cristo, wrongfully imprisoned and plotting his escape, and Alice who falls down the rabbit hole into a strange and confusing Wonderland. But they are not real. The people on TV are not real. In fact, the only real people are the child and his mother. And Old Nick, who comes at night and climbs into bed and who (the mother reminds him) is not a friend.
This is the set up for director Lenny Abrahamson (Frank, Garage) and writer Emma Donaghue’s magnificent film, ROOM. It is phenomenally tense. Gut-wrenchingly, heart-breakingly tense. And yet also uplifting. What is especially impressive is the way Abrahamson, his DP Danny Cohen and production designer Ethan Tobman created a world that is simultaneously both claustrophobic and the expansive, all-encompassing universe it is for the child. The visual language is simple, eschewing stylisation in favour of fluidity, and backed up by powerful turns from the two leads: Brie Larson (Short Term 12) as the mother and young Jacob Tremblay as her son Jack.
Films with kidnapping at the heart of its narrative structure tend to focus on the relationship between captor and captive: from the unusually cruel and complex in Michael Schleinzer’s 2011 film, Michael – a very tough watch – to the shlock-horror entertainment of the ‘torture-porn’ cycle (avoid, avoid!), the twists and turns of 2009’s thriller The Disappearance of Alice Creed and the slapstick comedy of Bette Midler and the hapless Judd Reinhold in Ruthless People. What makes Room unique is that it comes at this subject from the perspective of a child born into captivity. And it is utterly compelling because of it.
Don’t watch the trailer. It gives too much away I think. Just go and see it. Tomorrow’s screening at the London Film Festival is sold out. But it’s out on general release from 15 January 2016.