TORONTO — As the Canadian-Irish film “Room” gets set to hit theatres surrounded by critical acclaim and Oscar buzz, the distributors admit the subject matter “is a tricky one.”
Tricky because while the drama is based on the chilling premise of a mother and her young son held captive for years in a shed, it’s actually a life-affirming, inspiring film.
It’s not “harrowing,” as many articles and reviews have described it, says Elevation Pictures, the film’s Canadian distributor.
“I’m actually trying to get away from that word, because I don’t think it is,” says co-president Laurie May.
“The story in ‘Room’ is really about, to me, a mother’s love for her child and making the most of a bad circumstance; and once they get out of that space, really seeing the world through young, fresh eyes and appreciating all of the beauty in the world.”
That’s the message Elevation has been trying to convey through “Room”‘s marketing campaign since it premiered at the Telluride Film Festival and then went on to the Toronto International Film Festival, where it won the Grolsch People’s Choice Award.
It opens in Toronto on Friday, in Vancouver on Oct. 30 and across Canada on Nov. 6.
On the poster, stars Brie Larson and Jacob Tremblay are embracing and lovingly looking at each other as Ma and five-year-old son Jack in the great outdoors.
The only hint of their captivity is seen at the top, where the sky is framed to look like corners of a room.
Elevation recently released a new poster with the same image accompanied by laudatory quotes from critics, in an effort to “show people that this journey is something that they want to go on,” says Adrian Love, senior vice president of marketing and acquisitions at Elevation.
“The journey of this movie is these two characters supporting each other through these incredibly challenging situations and that’s where we, in the marketing of the movie, try and focus.”
Ireland’s Lenny Abrahamson directed the film, which is based on the bestselling novel by Canadian author Emma Donoghue, who also wrote the screenplay.
May says a few fans of the book told her they weren’t sure if they could handle seeing the story on the big screen.
It’s that fear that Elevation is trying to allay with a marketing campaign that assures “it’s not an hour and a half inside a room watching negative experiences,” says May.
“Most of the movie is about their experience once they’re out,” she adds, noting: “It’s not a horror film, it’s an inspiring drama.”
While there may be a few scenes that are tough to watch, May says “the films that resonate with audiences are the films that go to some places and really make us explore who we are and what love can take people through.”
Those films include Oscar winners “Precious” and “12 Years a Slave.”
“It drives me crazy, people will go watch a horror film that’s so, just nasty, and there’s no redemption or anything you get out of it, they just want to be grossed out,” says May.
“But then, ‘Oh, no, I can’t see a movie about ’12 Years a Slave.’ No, you should see that movie! … These are important, powerful movies.”
Elevation says word of mouth also has a “massive” impact, which is why the TIFF People’s Choice Award was so important for “Room.”
“We knew that the movie would appeal to so many people but we also knew that the synopsis was a hard thing to explain to people without people imagining a much darker movie than it is,” says Love.
“So winning the People’s Choice Award really opens up the conversation where we can point to a very sophisticated film audience and say, ‘They watched this movie and it’s an enjoyable, uplifting, emotional ride.”‘