Lenny Abrahamson’s latest film, Room, has an incredibly unique script and one of the best performances of the year. So why is the film just good, and not great? The reasons come, unfortunately, from the middling and generic direction of Abrahamson. Overall, the film works but could have been vastly improved with a truly great filmmaker at the helm. Firing on charged cylinders from the acting to the writing, Room lacks the direction to match.
Room centers on young 5-year-old Jack (Jacob Tremblay), who has been living inside the same four walls his entire life with Ma (Brie Larson). They have never been outside, and Jack’s only glimpse of the outer world comes through the skylight window above them or through the TV. Ma’s captor is only referred to as Old Nick (Sean Bridgers), a despicable presence who brings them supplies and forces himself on the woman while Jack is supposedly sleeping. After Old Nick becomes more violent and threatening, Ma plans their escape to the outside world.
Larson is just as fantastic as every bit of writing on Room will tell you. She’s completely authentic throughout, combining a mixture of warmth and strength that only a mother could seemingly have. She’s always holding back trauma, fear and frustration in an effort to protect Jack, whether it’s something psychological (telling him the room is all that exists) or something practical (creating toys out of egg shells). Larson emotes this ultimatum with incredible authenticity, both in captivity and out in the world.
Tremblay feels as if he was made in a laboratory — infinitely adorable — but regardless, his presence is genuine. The young actor impresses simply by not giving the impression of performance, as his interactions are filled with the wonderment and innocence of childhood, and as a result, Tremblay convincingly sells his astonishment at seeing the world for the first time. The rest of cast performs well, highlighted by the unsettling and convincingly dangerous Bridgers, an unsympathetic William H. Macy and a warm Joan Allen.
At this point in Abrahamson’s career, a curious question remains: who is he as a filmmaker? The director is clearly talented at casting his films, given the incredible performance from Jack Reynor (Transformers: Age of Extinction) in What Richard Did, while Abrahamson managed to assemble a stellar cast without a single weak spot in Frank. He achieves similar greatness in his casting for Room, as there isn’t a single lacking turn from the cast. Yet, Abrahmson still holds the film back. If only he had an eye for a shot like his casting, then we’d have something unforgettable with Room. Watching an Abrahamson film is like watching a documentary about a most compelling subject, yet it becomes clear that something lacks in the director’s craft.
The first half of Room takes place in one setting, however Abrahamson doesn’t take advantage of the tight structure in order to visually amplify and represent the emotions of these characters. In some respects, his non-intrusive visual directing represents Jack’s sense of normalcy, but for the most part, the direction just feels uncreative, a missed opportunity. Through a sensory overload, Abrahamson almost overcompensates his visuals once the story heads outside. Of course, when it first occurs, there’s a certain level of ambition, as this is Jack’s first look at the whole wide world, and we’re seeing it with him. After some time, however, the technique begins to feel repetitive rather than inventive. Abrahamson is a perfectly good filmmaker, but Room deserved more technical polish to match the ambition of Larson’s unforgettable performance.
Dylan Moses Griffin has been a cinephile for as long as he can remember. His favorite film is Taxi Driver, and he reads the works of Roger Ebert like it’s scripture. If you want, he will talk to you for 30 minutes about the chronologically weird/amazing Fast and Furious franchise.