Review: Room

Last Updated on August 2, 2021


ROOM was previously reviewed as part of our TIFF 2015 coverage.

PLOT: A young woman (Brie Larson) and her five year-old-son (Jacob Tremblay) are released into the world after years in captivity.

REVIEW: ROOM is quite the experience and often not a very pleasant one. With a story that's truly ripped from the headlines (there have been a number of tragic stories that resemble the plot) the first forty minutes of ROOM, which takes place in the titular location, is not easy to watch. That's not to say ROOM isn't excellent. What makes it so difficult is the skill in which it's been made, with director Lenny Abrahamson not shying away from the horror of the situation, with Larson's character being the victim of nightly rapes by her captor, the despicable “Old Nick” (Sean Bridgers) while we forced to fully appreciate the grime and squalor of the cold, inhospitable garden shed where they've been made prisoners.


Being a critic who's sat through his fair share of difficult films, I was surprised at how angry I was getting during the first half – maybe due to how utterly realistic the performances were with me fantasizing about the horrible things I'd do to Bridger's Old Nick if I got the chance, with him emerging as one of the most evil villains in recent screen history. Abrahamson never holds back on the terror and hopelessness of Larson and Tremblay's situation and if the whole movie had taken place in the one room, I'm not sure I would have been able to stick it out, just based on how upset it was making me.

Lucky for us, after the first forty-minutes or so, ROOM becomes an extremely cathartic experience, with Larson and Tremblay emerging and finding themselves suddenly transitioning back into society. The result of Nick's repeated rapes, Tremblay's Jack has never known anything but the room, with his mother having let him think the outside world didn't exist in the interest of giving him as normal an upbringing as possible.


Larson's character here is one of great recent screen heroines, with us seeing throughout what a loving, devoted mother she is despite the situation. If SHORT TERM 12 was Larson's breakout, ROOM is a logical follow-up in that it confirms she's one of the greatest performers of her generation. Larson's emotional range here is dazzling, with occasional eye-rolls and looks in the first half hinting at how one's psyche would fare in the situation but at the same time she evokes such tremendous love for Jack that her maternal bond to her child as depicted here will move even the most jaded audience members.

Her chemistry with young Jacob Tremblay is superb, with him having a whopper of a part for a young guy, and the movie hinges on his performance as much as it does hers. It's one of the great child-performances, up there with Tatum O'Neil in PAPER MOON. The rest of the cast is similarly impressive, with Joan Allen having her best role in years as Larson's mom, who has adjustments of her own to make once the daughter she presumed dead walks back into her life. While he has far less-screen time, William H. Macy has a few incredibly complex moments as her dad, who has a hard time coming to terms with the reality of her situation. Another performer who's tremendous is Tom McCamus as Allen's compassionate new husband, whose efforts to forge a special relationship with his step-grandson are extremely moving. He evokes a rare kindness here, and the way Allen and his relationship with Larson and Tremblay evolves leads to more than a few profoundly satisfying, cathartic moments that resulted in audible sobs at the all-press screening I attended here at TIFF.

While occasionally a tough film to watch, Abrahamson's ROOM is nonetheless one of the year's major accomplishments and certainly one we'll be hearing talked about a lot during awards season. It's a true tour-de-force for Larson and certainly the film that's going to move her to that next level of stardom she so richly deserves. Obviously it's a must-see and another one of the great film's I've seen at this year's incredibly solid TIFF.




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About the Author

Chris Bumbray began his career with JoBlo as the resident film critic (and James Bond expert) way back in 2007, and he has stuck around ever since, being named editor-in-chief in 2021. A voting member of the CCA and a Rotten Tomatoes-approved critic, you can also catch Chris discussing pop culture regularly on CTV News Channel.