Saturday, February 13, 2016

Movie – Room (2015)

Room is nominated for four of the big five Oscars – Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actress, and Best Adapted Screenplay.  I don’t know that it will win any of them because of the flaws in the film.  Brie Larson probably has the best chance of winning because her best scenes are during the better parts of the movie.  Overall, I’m guessing this got its Best Picture nomination because of the subject matter, not because of the actual quality of the film compared to the other potential nominees.

And what is the subject matter?  A woman and her five year old son are locked in a tool shed, kept captive by a man.  Ma (Larson) has been there seven years, ever since she was kidnapped as a 17 year old.  Her son Jack (Jacob Tremblay) has only ever known the inside of the one room that he has lived in his entire life.  The door has a combination code and the only window is a skylight.

Ma and Jack find ways to pass the time during the day and each night her kidnapper, known as Old Nick (Sean Bridgers), comes in and has sex with her while Jack is supposed to be sleeping in the wardrobe.

The first half of the movie consists of scenes only within this one space.  Then the second part of the film is outside the room.  It is also a complete change in tone and style, too.  It’s as if they shot two short films and just smushed them uneasily together.  The first half is interesting, different, and sometimes quite tense.  The second half is something you can see most any week on Lifetime.

In addition to Larson and Tremblay, the film has William H. Macy and Joan Allen as Ma’s parents.  Unfortunately, both of their talents are wasted.  Macy barely appears for five minutes and Allen isn’t given a whole lot to work with.  The supporting character who actually does do the most with his limited screen time is Tom McManus as Allen’s character’s new husband or live in lover.

There was talk when the film came out about the 8-9 year old Tremblay possibly getting a Best Actor nomination.  There was related talk about him maybe being shunted to Best Supporting Actor even though he becomes the central character at a certain point in the film.  As it turns out, he received neither nomination.  Personally, I thought he did a good job in some scenes, mostly the quiet ones where he had to actually act without speaking.  Other times he was just a kid playing a kid – no acting needed.  Finally, there were times when he was annoying as hell (not the actor’s fault).  One of the weaknesses of some movies’ writing is when they have a small child in a major role and they feel they have to make the kid a brat in order to make him or her interesting.  Emma Donoghue adapted the screenplay from her own book of the same name.

Director Lenny Abrahamson bizarrely chose to use heavy shakycam to film the three or four most important scenes in the film, rendering them essentially unwatchable.  That greatly lessens their impact.  Most other scenes have competent cinematography in them.

And I realize “it’s only a movie”, but one thing really bothered me.  Ma has been kept captive in an above ground tool shed for seven years.  It has thin walls that could be penetrated with various items in the room, a skylight that is easily reachable using the furniture in the room, and a door with only 10,000 combinations at a maximum to try to get it open.  You could easily run through every combination in 2-3 days.  I know if some psycho had me locked up and was coming each night to rape me that I’d sure as hell be punching buttons as fast as I could, as long as I could.  And that’s not even figuring that each number has a unique tone that she has been hearing every single day for seven years.  He’d have to be resetting the code every single day to prevent this – which still leaves the skylight and the walls as ways to get out.  I guess what it comes down to is I expect more from a critically acclaimed, Oscar nominated movie.  It shouldn’t have glaring errors in it like that.

Overall, Room has some parts that are quite good, but it also has parts that are quite pedestrian.  It’s not among the better Best Picture nominees this year, but it is still worth your time to see, if only for the first half.

Chip’s Rating: 3 out of 5 stars


  1. I really got into this, to the point where I couldn't stop crying: something I have never done in a film.

    With regard to your quibbles, with the key-coded door, may it not have a limit to the number of attempts you could have, before it locked you in? And he probably changed it frequently. Also, the walls didn't seem that thin to me, but I don't really remember (so you may be right). The skylight, she could have tried, however, I doubt she had all those things in the room when 'Old Nick' put her in there originally. Maybe just a bed and the bare necessities. And that doesn't even begin to touch on the psychology of a young girl who has just been abducted and raped, and wonders if someone is going to find her (I know that is how I would feel).

    I think Old Nick would have thought about every possibility about escape before he abducted her, and was clearly planning it for weeks beforehand. He probably had it set-up as though he had very expensive tools in there, and needed it to be utterly inpenetrable.

    In an alternative movie, maybe she does an Andy Dufrasne!

    1. I'm glad that you were very moved by this film. It's great when we find movies like this for ourselves.

      I agree he may have changed the code frequently and limited the attempts. It would still be easy to learn the 10 unique sounds each number made when pressed. Each time he enters and leaves you get two chances to listen to those four tones and know which four numbers were pressed for that day, and in what order. (I idly did it once, under FAR less traumatic circumstances, of course.)

      But leaving the door aside, a mouse was able to chew it's way through the wall to get in, indicating they are not that thick or tough. And while there was soundproofing all around to keep the neighbors from hearing anything, I'd also try to remove some where it wouldn't be seen, such as under the bed or behind the warddrobe. Ultimately, though, I'd have gone for the skylight. (Which may have been tough plastic or bullet proof glass, but it has to be attached to the roof somehow and that attachment can be worn through if the glass/plastic cannot.)

      Yes, I thought about the Dufresne way (using the toilet to get rid of the evidence), but figured it was a little too much to ask. She only had seven years. :-)

      If they had just stuck them in a cellar and made the door combo 8 digits instead of 6 (or a lettered keypad) it would have resolved this. Of course, then they couldn't have had the "looking out the skylight" feature.

      Anyway, it's something that bothered me, but it's not a make or break element of the movie, and I did recommend it. And I acknowledged that my expectations impacted my perception of it. If it had been a summer action film I would have noticed it, but probably moved on. Hell, I love Die Hard, but I immediately asked "why doesn't he just go down the stairs?" then shrugged it off and enjoyed the movie. (The SWAT team also spends a minute trying to cut through the metal lock...on a glass door.)

  2. I really COULDN'T get into this movie. I guess I was expecting something more earth-shattering or beautiful, and I felt left with a semi-lifetime movie with pretty good acting :\

    1. I know what you mean. My expectations unfortunately often impact my impression of a movie. I usually try to know as little about it as I can before watching one, but when it's an Oscar Best Picture nominee that's kind of hard.

  3. I watched this last night, and I had almost the same reaction you did. I didn't think about escaping through the skylight, but the same thought about the keypad and trying to escape in seven years from a garden shed occurred to me as well.

    I wanted to like this a hell of a lot more than I did.

    1. Same here. I'm guessing there's a review at your site so I'm off to read it.

  4. m4ufree movies - The first 45 min are not bad. It gives idea of the claustrophobic situation and the desperation of it, although very little. After the escape (hello! No spoiler, it's in the description the movie) the story becomes unbalanced and drags on as a lifetime drama. Nothing about the investigation. Just to many scenes of getting back into the real life. The narration by a boy who is far too old to be a 5 year old is about as irritating as it can get but I can cut some slack with American child labor regulations. The story is rather flat, in dialogue, in relationships, in story line. Horrible what happened to victims like kampusch but that fact just isn't enough make it Oscar material and it certainly doesn't compensate for poor directing and flat writing. Not impressed.
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  5. Such a plot is quite difficult to understand. Any of the situations can shock an unprepared viewer. However, the main characters find a way out.