The Best Actress category in this year’s Oscars was very strong. Cate Blanchett, Jennifer Lawrence, Charlotte Rampling and Saoirse Ronan all gave powerful, committed performances that were finely-tuned, expressive and thoughtful. All of them however were overshadowed by one towering performance, from Brie Larson in Room. She was the favourite, and probably won it by a country mile. Put simply it’s a performance that you won’t see the like of in a very, very long time.
The room in question is the tiny space where Larson’s Ma is being held captive and raped nightly by Old Nick (a 17th century term for the Devil). The only light is from a skylight, the room itself is a squalid collection of cheap furniture and utilities, just enough to keep her alive – a sink, a bed. Her only companion is her young son Jack (Tremblay), who it transpires was born in this space, and therefore knows nothing else. The only thing that keeps Ma going is her young boy, but obviously their relationship is strained and difficult.
For a good hour of the film the only world we see is the same as Ma and Jack’s, and it’s to director Abrahamson’s enormous credit that he makes it as visually interesting as possible. We see the world through Jack’s eyes – he names his chairs, the furniture and his sad collection of toys, and says good morning to all of them. The huge tension is that he has no knowledge of the existence of the outside world, and thinks his mum is trying to trick him when she tells him of other people, houses and worlds. The only help she gets is when a leaf lands on the skylight and she tries to make Jack understand where it has come from.
Thankfully halfway through the film the pair manage to escape, in a brilliantly staged, heart-stopping sequence, but their problems don’t stop there. After seven years Ma finds the outside world has changed considerably – her parent are divorced, her father can’t cope with the thought of where Jack has come from – clearly he is the product of a rape – and she blames her mother for her abduction.
Room is clearly a tough watch, and at some moments almost forces the viewer to look away, particularly in the rape scenes. What is remarkable though is how Larson’s performance pulls together the story in a wholly thrilling way. Aided by a remarkable script, which teases out information slowly and horrifyingly, Larson’s Ma is quite extraordinary. Her open, frowning face, make-up free and malnourished (Old Nick stops her supply of vitamins as they are ‘too expensive’) is utterly beguiling. There is even a suggestion that she is still breast-feeding her son, perhaps for nourishment, certainly as a form of coping, but her commitment to protecting the only thing she has in the world is utterly compelling.
Yes it’s a tough, sometimes gruelling two hours, but it’s a film that dares to take on a truly horrific subject matter. It’s strangely uplifting, and proves beyond doubt that the Joseph Fritzls and Brian David Mitchells of this world will never win.
Overall verdict: Extraordinary tale of an abduction with a performance from Larson that will burrow its way into your mind and then your heart. She deserved and Oscar and every other award going, and the young Tremblay is almost her equal. Powerhouse stuff.
Reviewer: Mike Martin