'Room' is an astonishing film. The story is engrossing, but it works because it avoids the issues inherent in adapting material this dark. Anything with characters who experience kidnapping, rape & PTSD (among other horrors) is sure to be emotional, but the actors and filmmakers handle them appropriately without wallowing in despair. They kept a tight grip on my emotions from almost the first shot, but because the emotional releases are more uplifting than expected, it is not painful to sit through.
I'll avoid getting too far into the plot as I usually prefer to go into a film knowing as little as possible, but the first act is integral to understanding how carefully this film treads in difficult territory. It begins in the titular room with Ma & her son Jack as we live with them for a few days and they remain confined to a small space in an unknown location. We learn their routine and see how they manage to survive, making it very clear this is the only situation Jack has ever known, and the only thing to break their routine are Sunday visits from the mysterious Old Nick (the obvious assumptions an audience makes about the terrible relationship with him are all correct). These introductory scenes so carefully capture the intense connection between our two leads, far beyond a normal mother-son relationship. Being the only person you spend time with for 5 years (or your entire life in Jack's case) creates a terrifying but fascinating dynamic that includes an animal-like reliance on & defense for this coupling. They so adore each other, but Ma - having clearly known a world beyond this one - gets understandably frustrated with her son, but moreso their situation.
We enter their lives at a clear turning point on Jack's 5th birthday. Ma has finally decided it's time to stop protecting Jack and inform him of the outside world, destroying her carefully constructed protective fantasies that she has taught her son, such as the TV being the only thing that exists outside room. After his initial reluctance, Jack begins to understand that there's much more to the world than what he has always known, and an exploration of this unique viewpoint provides the film with its greatest strength. Jack's narration fascinatingly sheds light on what it might be like to understand the concept of other people & environments existing for the first time after a worldview has been established. What could be a grating voice-over provides insight into this impossible to imagine situation - immeasurably helped by jacob Tremblay's optimistically befuddled performance.
As the film progresses the relationship between mother & son, along with his understanding of the world, are completely changed - a wonderful process to watch evolve. The actors & director capture this emotional roller coaster in such a visceral way that I was never not on the edge of my seat.
Brie Larson - absolutely stunning & criminally under-seen in Short term 12 two years ago - finally gets her due with a co-lead performance that allows her to explore a wide range of emotions, but she never overacts and her character never becomes grating (but frustrating - yes). Without an adult lead as strong as Brie the film would not be nearly as powerful, but without her young co-star Tremblay, it could have easily been unwatchable. With child actors there is such a tough balance to strike between cute & annoying - especially with minefields like voice-over, tantrums & physical performance - but he is an incredible find.
These performances & the perfectly balanced tone never would have happened without a strong, confident hand steering the ship, so director Lenny Abrahamson deserves as much credit for those as anyone else or anything else he did with this film. Frank was a fine film, but this is a totally different level for the young filmmaker, the sign of a talent that will almost certainly continue to do interesting work.
This is my favorite film of the year so far & one of the most affecting I have seen in a long time. It's not difficult for a film to make me tear up, but this is the first time I remember being on the verge of breaking down almost the entire time, never really sure if it was due to terror, joy or sadness. I mean that as a very high compliment.
Room made me feel - really, truly, deeply.