Watching Room is essentially the act of barely breathing and nearly crying for two hours. It’s a devastating, yet surprisingly uplifting celebration of life, survival instinct, and the impenetrable bond between mother and son. Featuring two of the year’s best performances, nearly unbearable suspense and raw emotion, and a knack for retaining hope in the face of sorrow, Room is an absolute must-see.
Brie Larson stars as Joy, who was kidnapped as a high schooler by Old Nick (Bridgers) and has been held in captivity in the seven years since in a squalid shed in his backyard. During her time she gave birth to Jack (Tremblay), now five years old and knowing nothing about life outside the confines of the windowless shed, or “room,” as they call it. After the two stage a daring escape from Old Nick’s clutches, they must adapt to “normal” life – the cameras, the interviews, and the challenge of connecting with Joy’s parents, Robert (Macy) and Nancy (Allen).
Director Lenny Abrahamson and writer Emma Donoghue (adapting from her own novel) have brought this story to life in vivid, breathtaking fashion. Every scene emanates immediacy and contemplation, with the first forty-five minutes so downtrodden that it’s fair to wonder if Room can recover. It does, emerging with a second half of sheer strength and buildup of hope that these two, particularly Jack, can thrive in everyday life. Abrahamson makes brilliant use of the strict and small confines of the shed to keep the first act pulsating. He also delivers the single most suspenseful, palm-sweating sequence of the year as the planned escape takes form.
Room features two of the best performances of recent memory, starting with Larson, who’s rapidly becoming a superstar. Her role is one of quiet, confident desperation as she tries to convince Jack that there is a whole world outside “room” then must acclimate when he gets the chance to see it for himself. She’s on-screen for nearly every frame of the film and never missteps, always gaining empathy and delivering an on-point, flawless depiction of a strong mother in a truly terrible situation. Young Jacob Tremblay turns in the best child performance since Henry Thomas in E.T. Effortlessly conveying innocence and heartbreaking impatience with what he knows and what he keeps being told, Tremblay is electric and his bond with Larson is completely convincing. Joan Allen provides fine supporting work as Joy’s mother, who receives such good news that she’s alive and well but must now cope with the fact that she’s now a completely different person.
Room is a difficult, heartbreaking, and challenging watch. Knowing these scenarios happen in reality adds an extra undercurrent of despair. As with many tales of resilience in the face of unimaginable anguish, Room gradually crosses over to the realm of hope and “moving on.” The final scene is one of quiet power and closure. The whole film is like that, earning its tears and never resorting to false melodrama. It’s an astonishing experience and one of 2015’s finest films.
Length: 118 Minutes
Rating: R for language.
Theatrical Release: October 16, 2015 (Limited)
Directed by: Lenny Abrahamson
Written by: Emma Donoghue. Based upon Donoghue’s novel of the same name.
Cast: Brie Larson, Jacob Tremblay, Joan Allen, Sean Bridgers, William H. Macy