Room: An Intricately Crafted Disappointment

Yes, I am aware of all the positive accolades being garnered by Lenny Abrahamson’s Room. I will not be surprised if it also wins a few Oscars next month. But having said that I have to confess that the film left me really cold. Call me a philistine but no, I could not just engage myself with it. This is a very strange feeling as the film does have some visibly strong aspects, especially the acting by the two lead actors Brie Larson and Jacob Tremblay. Anyways, let me first describe the basics of film before getting into my usual rants.

The film starts in an intriguing manner. We see a a young woman (Larson) and her child (Tremblay) inside a small cramped room. They share a close, affectionate bonding and their only pastime seems to be a TV. However the most strange aspect here is that they never seem to go out of the room. Every time the kid asks about the outside world, the mother comes up with some made up tale. The only other person who appears in the first half is a man who brings supplies and sleeps with the mother at night while the kid is tucked away inside a closet, and his face is almost never seen. So, what is the deal with these strange people? Why are they stuck in that titular room and will they ever gate out and see what is there outside?

If the above premise sounds interesting then no one can blame you. It does make people wonder about the characters, especially the kid. However, the thing is that it works only till the central conceit is revealed, which happens midway through the film. After that the film unfolds too slowly but too little happens to justify such an intricate buildup and glacial pace. So, at the end it feels as if the director promised too much banking on a very thin premise that takes its own sweet time to reveal itself.

It does not also help the case that the idea resembles Chan Wook Park’s classic Korean thriller Old Boy (sorry if that sounds like a spoiler, I just had to say it)! However, that film packed much more in terms of action, ideas as well as and thrills while Room dumps the mystery at the midpoint and becomes a typical, minimalist, character study churned out by all the art house filmmakers nowadays. The issue with such a treatment is that you are promised a great thriller with a lot of twists at the end but is transported to a completely different genre of humane drama by the time it ends. Also, the film has indeed been listed as a “thriller” in many film sites. This, I think was the primary reason for my disappointment as my expectations were channeled to a different direction by the information available online.

However, the film is not devoid of positives. As mentioned already, the actors have made the film work despite many shortcomings. While Larson already has a Globe and has also been nominated for Oscar, one feels that nine year old Tremblay deserved it even more. Also, the idea that it explore in the second half, that of looking at the world anew through the eyes of a child, does have its own charm and intrigue that could have constituted a whole film. But Abrahamson tries to deal in two disparate elements and eventually does not do complete justice to do any of them. I’d still suggest this film, mainly for the performances. Just treat it as a psychological drama and do not focus too much on the word “thriller”.

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