Five year old Jack (Jacob Tremblay) has spent his entire life in what he calls Room, a windowless sound-proofed shed with an electronically locked door. He's only ever spoken to his loving Ma (Brie Larson), who has spent the last seven years trapped inside by a mysterious captor. Since escape has always seemed hopeless, she's decided to tell Jack that there is nothing outside of Room: the people they watch on their small TV aren't real, trees and oceans aren't real...everything outside of their confines is considered "outer space." It's a heck of a premise for a movie, and writer Emma Donoghue's script (adapted from her own novel) provides plenty of opportunities for gut-wrenching — and even a few heart-pounding — set pieces.
Director: Lenny Abrahamson
Starring: Brie Larson, Jacob Tremblay
Director Lenny Abrahamson is coming off a movie called Frank, which centered on an idealistic young musician as he joined an off-kilter band full of weirdos. The title character took the musician under his wing and served as the patriarch of this metaphorical family; in Room, Abrahamson explores another strange family dynamic. This entire film hinges on the relationship between Jack and Ma, and both Larson and Tremblay deliver in a huge way. Larson, hearkening back to her breakout work in the indie film Short Term 12, is excellent, juggling moments of soul-crushing sadness with glimpses of pure joy as her character interacts with her son.
Tremblay is next-level, delivering one of the best child performances...maybe ever? This may be an ignorant or ageist stance on my part, but I'm always hesitant to ascribe greatness to kid actors because I can rarely tell if they have the full capacity to understand what they're doing, like whether certain moments are nuanced decisions or just part of the kid's natural tendencies. But considering how drastically different Jack's worldview is than a normal kid's, it's safe to say the young Tremblay knows exactly what he's doing. It's a superb performance, ranking up there alongside Haley Joel Osment in The Sixth Sense.
(In case you don't know how the story plays out, I don't want to ruin it for you here without throwing up a big spoiler warning, so if you're on the fence about seeing this one, I'd say it's worth checking out. Anything from here on out should be considered a spoiler.)
In addition to being something of a thriller in its first half, Room also works as a metaphor for postpartum depression. Jack's eventual escape and his flabbergasted first reactions to the outside world serve as the birthing scene, and after Ma reunites with him, she falls into a major funk when they return to her childhood home that's parallel to how some mothers feel after giving birth. She's been planning this for years, and now that it's happened, she's not quite sure how to go back to "normal" life. It's a daunting prospect, and the film doesn't offer any easy answers, spending a considerable amount of its runtime dealing with the emotional fallout after the escape. After such a breathless escape sequence, the pacing slows way down to deliver a meditation on the effects of the trauma they both suffered, and though it picks back up again a little by the end, it's still a bit of a drag in the middle. It finishes strong, though, and Larson and Tremblay's moving on-screen connection is more than enough to justify a viewing.