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Room

Year: 2015
Production Co: Element Pictures
Director: Lenny Abrahamson
Writer: Emma Donoghue
Cast: Brie Larson, Jacob Tremblay, Joan Allen, William H Macy, Tom McCamus

If you don't know anything about the plot of Room, you'll be surprised to learn how long it is before you realise what a horrible story it deals with.

That's because, with Emma Donoghue's clever script (based on her novel) and Lenny Abrahamson's (Frank) direction, Room isn't about the horrible thing you soon realise is going on. That's only the backdrop to one of the most unique points of view in a film in a long time, and together with some of the best acting so far of 2015, Room will stay with you long after it's over.

Ma (Brie Larson) lives in what looks like a sparsely furnished and appointed flat with her little boy, Jack (Jacob Tremblay), who's turning five. There's no explanation about why Jack has long, lustrous hair, why they only seem to live in this single tiny chamber and never go outside, why their only link to the outside world is the bad signal over an old TV and why Jack is constantly asking about whether the things they see on the TV are real or not.

To reveal the reason why Ma and Jack spend their lives in Room (the proper noun they've attributed to their home) would be to blow the suckerpunch about their true circumstances. Even more skillfully, it sustains the mystery about how beautiful and shocking their lot is in equal measure, by revealing the terrible circumstances of their story organically.

Room tells us and teaches us everything from Jack's point of view. Old Nick (Sean Bridgers) comes to visit he and Ma every few nights and deliver food and provisions. Jack sits in the closet while Old Nick and Ma spend a few hours laying in bed. He doesn't understand why they can't have a birthday cake with frosting like on TV and sometimes gets frustrated and angry. But even though he senses there's something not quite right about their situation, he loves her and knows she's always there for him.

Ma realises the time is right to explain a bit more about the world to Jack – starting with the fact that Room isn't all there is. He can't understand or believe all of it and it's far too much to take in, but Ma needs him to believe because he's critical to her plan to get them out.

As an adult watching the film you've known since the beginning something's not right, but even when you realise the full extent of the horror Ma's been through (and that she's shielded Jack from), Abrahamson so effectively shows us the world through Jack's eyes that the tone is often like something out of a fairy tale. Even while we learn the truth it feels just like discovering any other fact of life little kids have to absorb even when the implications are way over their heads.

When Ma and Jack join the real world for the film's second half it's a far different but no less confronting struggle. Jack meets his extended family, Ma's mother (Joan Allen), her new husband Leo (Tom McCamus) and Ma's dad (William H Macy), all of whom react in very different ways.

It becomes a story about healing, as much for Joy (as we now know Ma) as it is for Jack, and we gradually learn – as the characters themselves do – that Jack might be far more equipped to adjust than anyone.

Room is brilliantly anchored to a viewpoint that keeps it from being a crime, thriller or revenge tale even though it has scenes of tension and terror – look no further than Jack's escape sequence, where he doesn't even fully understand what's going on. We don't ever see what happens to Old Nick because Room isn't that story. Instead it's one of (as the promotional material promises but rarely fulfills) familial love and figuring out who you are.

And the great story and brilliant handling of it is elevated even more by the performances. Even though most of the attention is on Jacob Tremblay as Jack, it's Larson who will break your heart.

Unlike a typical Hollywood story with all the attendant emotional histrionics, Ma loves Jack to a degree you can feel even though she doesn't have to constantly sweep him into her arms with tears in her eyes. It feels like a real mother/son relationship and you've never seen better casting between a boy who's barely older than a toddler and a woman in her mid 20s.

Special mention also goes to Bridgers as Old Nick. After also playing the quietly terrifying dad in The Woman, he's becoming one of cinema's unsung go-to villains for serious drama.

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