The Also-Rans Project – Room (Best Picture Nominee 2015)

Room Poster.jpgDirected by Lenny Abrahamson

Written by Emma Donoghue, based on her novel

Starring Brie Larson, Jacob Tremblay, Joan Allen, William H. Macy, Tom McCamus and Sean Bridgers

Best Picture 2015 was the first year in which The Best Picture Project and The Also-Rans overlapped – probably because The Also-Rans didn’t exist before.  This meant 2015 was the first – and likely only – year in which I could alter in real-time what movies I was going to see with respect to that year’s Best Picture contest.  Generally, try to catch all the Best Picture nominees in theaters, and because this was the first year I knew I was going to be doing The Also-Rans, I had the chance to hold out on seeing one, or more, of the nominees for the express purpose of watching that film later for The Also-Rans.  The movie I withheld?  Room.

Of course, to be completely transparent, I wasn’t necessarily saving the film entirely because of this project – rather, I held it aside because, knowing the underlying story and what inspired it, I did not relish seeing the film.  The very subject filled me with a sense of dread and queasiness I preferred to avoid.  So, saving Room for The Also-Rans was practical, but it also let me avoid putting myself through it.  But, unlike The Best Picture Project, where I saved most of the movies I dreaded watching again until the end of it – Million Dollar Baby, I’m looking at you – and wound up seeing a bunch of films in a row I wished I didn’t, I decided to get this one done early.

What’s It About?

Room is the story Image result for brie larson roomof a young woman, taken prisoner as a late-teen and held captive in a garden shed by a man she calls ‘Old Nick.’  Over the course of seven years he repeatedly rapes her and fathers a son with her.  By the time the movie starts, the boy is coming up to his fifth birthday and not once during his life has he been outside the room in the shed.  To normalize the situation for the boy as much as she can, and to protect him, the woman weaves an intense fiction around their situation, but given the threats spoken and unspoken from ‘Old Nick’, she only barely holds it all together.

Just after the boy’s birthday, though, something happens that puts both the boy and the woman in danger – the implication of unemployment has never been so dark – and the woman makes a daring plan to escape.  Once freedom is achieved, though, it comes with a psychological price neither she, nor the child anticipated.

In some ways, Room is Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, minus the jokes.


Room is very well-directed.  Through the two movies of Lenny Abrahamson’s I’ve seen – the other being Frank – he’s demonstrated himself as an assured filmmaker, with a very good sense of the visuals of the story.  Here, where the film is really played in two halves, he creates very different visual feelings for the two.  In the first half, which is all about the boy’s captivity, he makes the space both claustrophobic and expansive at the same time.  Though the walls of the room define the world, he deftly manages to open them up, while also holding them together, so as to define not only the physical, but the mental space of the woman and the boy.  Then, in the second half, which should feel more open after the limits of the room, he shows how the world can be a confining place – almost as confining as the room itself.

Better than using the space to convey the interior lives of the characters, he manages the suspense with skill – this is particularly a function in the first half, as the second half is all about adjustment.  Yes, we feel the inherent danger lurking in the captivity by Old Nick – after all, if a man is willing to hold a woman captive for sexual purposes, he is clearly capable of anything – but Abrahamson is careful not to hit the audience over the head with it, preferring the danger to be almost unspoken.  More of a sense of lingering dread that is only punctuated in the most subtle ways  Indeed, the most chilling, or threatening, moment in the whole of the film is conveyed nearly wordlessly, with little more than a look.  When ‘Old Nick’ reveals he’s been out of work for six months, the slight hint of realization of what that all means registers on Larsen’s face and that look from her is enough to give full voice to the danger of the situation – that she and the boy would surely be killed before he’d ever let them go.

The Performances

On the whole, the performances in the film are incredible, though you’d be mistaken if you believed going in that Larsen was the star.  Sure, she won Best Actress, and sure, her performance carries the first half of the film, and sure, her performance in the first half very neatly dances on a razor’s edge between complete hysteria and holding things together, but in the second half she is reduced to a supporting, or nearly-non-existent, part.  To be fair, when she does appear those moments are devastating, and her best scene might actually come during that part of the film.  While sitting down for an interview with a national news program, the interviewer asks her why she didn’t have Old Nick take the baby away when it was born, so he might have freedom.  It is only then she realizes that insisting on keeping the boy in the room with her she’d become, to him, what Old Nick was to her – the captor.  That look on her face in that moment is completely heartbreaking.

Image result for jacob tremblay roomObviously, Tremblay is great – the movie is really his movie, is told almost exclusively from his perspective, and whenever the film takes a point-of-view, it is his.  At its most basic, the movie is about how these two different worlds affect him – Room and Freedom – and it’s his confusion and disorientation we follow.  With a less-skilled performer, there would be a real danger of the film sinking under the failure of that performance.  That Tremblay holds up his end is what makes the movie really hit on a gut level.

Image result for joan allen roomJoan Allen, though, might be the biggest surprise of all.  In general, her career has been built on being chilly, if not downright cold.  And if not that, she plays brittle and severe with such ease you’d think that’s how she is every day – she can play a disapproving parent, or wife, in her sleep.  But here, she’s extremely tender, patient and understanding, and after years of watching her be a cold shoulder, it’s a nice to see her radiate warmth.

Image result for old nick roomMostly unsung is the guy who plays ‘Old Nick’ – Sean Bridgers.  I’d not heard of him before, and did not recognize him from anywhere else, but for a role that was limited by both screen time, the way he was shot, and what his character really was, he manages to rise above being a one-dimensional, monster.  Even though you know he’s committed a horrific crime, and may have to do something even more-horrific, he’s not the mastermind he’d like to be.  In many ways, he’s a captive to the situation and frightened by it as much as Larsen is, and you can sense that humanity in the way he plays it.

Spotlight (film) poster.jpgBetter than Best?

There’s the question – is Room better than the Best Picture winner, Spotlight?  In one sense, it absolutely is – Spotlight is certainly heavier, and the tougher sit.  Ultimately, that’s why I avoided Room in the first place – I did not relish the brutal slog that the story of a woman’s sexual captivity could have been.  That the movie turned out to be tense, without also being brutal – the right word is restrained – I was relieved and thankful it didn’t wring me out.

In another sense, though, Spotlight is much more efficient about what it does.  It’s much quieter, focused and a prime example of low-key tension.  Room is also good at that low-key bit of dread but, ultimately, it’s the let-up of the tension – and a bit of dragginess to the second half – which dings it.  Perhaps if the freedom of the boy and his mother had been made to feel as gut-wrenching as actually captivity, it would rise above Spotlight.  As it is, rather than be truly triumphant, it almost limps – in some ways – to the resolution.

That being said, the Room at least managed to leave me with a feeling of hope, which thankfully felt earned.  Too often films have a false ending – the happy ending – tacked on and it feels it.  That the hope, or glimmer of happiness, at the end of Room felt earned, was refreshing.

See the rest of the Also Rans Project here.

Also, don’t be afraid to have a look at the thing that inspired this, The Best Picture Project.

To be a pal and buy my books, jump over here and here and have a look.  I promise, buying always makes you feel good.


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