Room (2015) / Drama
MPAA Rated: R for language, disturbing themes, and some sexual content
Running Time: 118 min.
Cast: Brie Larson, Jacob Tremblay, Joan Allen, Sean Bridgers, William H. Macy, Tom McCammus, Amanda Brugel, Cas Anvar
Director: Lenny Abrahamson
Screenplay: Emma Donoghue (based on her novel)
Review published November 15, 2015
Room is the kind of movie that makes me wish I had never seen the trailer, as I feel there are entirely too many key story moments revealed within it that lessen a good deal of the tension of several gut-wrenching scenes. Of course, without those revelatory moments, perhaps some people wouldn't have chosen to watch a movie with a premise as bleak and dispiriting as Room, and I'm all for allowing as many people as possible to want to see it. Although I'm not going to spoil the film beyond anything you'll find in the trailer (in fact, I'll reveal far less), my best advice to you is go into the movie knowing as little as you can, then come back and read this review. It's a very worthy blind watch.
Emma Donoghue beautifully adapts her best-selling 2010 novel of the same name, about young woman named Joy Newsome (Larson, Trainwreck), who has been kidnapped and held as a captive for repeated sexual abuse in the soundproofed and electronically secured shed in the backyard of a deranged sexual predator for over seven years. In the shed with her is her five-year-old son Jack (Tremblay, Before I Wake), who was born and raised in captivity in that tiny environment that they simply call "Room", and whose understanding of the world comes only through his mother's carefully shielded words, a television set that he's been led to believe shows pure fantasy, and a small skylight. For five years, she's been able to shield Jack from her captor's advances, but the constant fear and her inability to keep the inquisitive young boy hidden has her think it's imperative that she find a way for him to escape, and, hopefully for him to be able to tell someone who can help that she's still alive and hopeful of being found. However, Jack is the only positive thing she has in this world, and it's hard to let him go, especially when he doesn't know anything about what's beyond Room's walls, or of other people, which makes his chance of survival in doubt.
Brilliantly directed with an eye toward more realistic drama over contrived movie theatrics, Lenny Abrahamson (Frank, What Richard Did) truly gets the most out of an excellent collection of actors, all of whom deliver outstanding performances throughout. While Brie Larson will get the lion's share of the movie's acting accolades for her emotionally heartbreaking central performance, Jacob Tremblay delivers what just might be the best performance by a child I've seen in any film in my entire life of film-watching. He truly does come across like a gentle boy whose never encountered a masculine presence first-hand, and a fragile-minded one who has never been exposed to the outside world. These two are so fine tuned, they absolutely feel like they inhabit every fiber of their character's being, through and through, with a bond between a mother and son that is so strong, you will likely leave the theater wondering how they were able to achieve such realistic portrayals.
I won't reveal much about the story as is plays out, but I will say that it does have to shift gears in a major way on several occasions, and it's to Abrahamson's maturity as a director that he's able to nail most of the tricky landings Donoghue's story requires without resorting to cheap melodrama or showy histrionics. Perhaps the one that is the most turbulent in terms of presenting plausible developments that aren't contrived comes from the actual execution of Joy's scheme to get Jack into the outside world, which does beg for a substantial modicum of disbelief suspension, as does several of the scenes that play out afterward. (I do like the metaphor that "Rug" is the place where Jack is born into the world twice.) However, given that this ultimately isn't what the film is about (i.e., this isn't a thriller or crime drama), we can allow for it in order to get to the much more rewarding thematic material of the rest of the movie, which is an emotionally resonant ride that feels absolutely on the money.
Needless to say, given the gravity of the terrifying aspects of subject matter (in some way, it's like a small-scale but less fanciful Life is Beautiful), Room won't be an easy watch for many viewers, especially as we come to greatly care about these characters in the short amount of time we're with them, to the point where it's difficult to stomach the notion of seeing either of them come to harm. Nevertheless, it is also one of those movies that will leave you coming out of it of even the littlest things in life that we probably take for granted -- family, friends, pets, communities, freedom, and perhaps above all else, how meaningful parent/child bonds actually are, something often forgotten by both parties as time goes by. Don't let the premise keep you from watching one of the finest, and most life-affirming, films of 2015.
©2015 Vince Leo