Room is a harrowing journey.
It’s a powerful, affecting piece of work, telling a story that is both extraordinary and universal (as all good stories should be). It’s also one of the best films of the year so far.
It’s early. Jack (Jacob Tremblay) crawls out of bed and excitedly greets all the objects in his room on the morning of his fifth birthday. “His room” is maybe not entirely accurate; it seem to be the room. He wakes up his mother (Brie Larson) so that they may begin the day.
They get themselves bathed, dressed, exercise, all with the lightheartedness befit the average family. But something seems off. They still haven’t left the room. It’s in an obvious state of extreme disrepair. But, this doesn’t seem to bother either of them; they go about life as usual. Mostly. Ma tells Jack that they’re going to make a birthday cake. “Like in the TV?” he asks. It becomes more and more clear that something isn’t right here. Jack seems to know nothing about the outside world. While he watches a lot of TV, he thinks that what goes on in the TV is all imaginary make-believe — dogs don’t exist and leaves are always green.
Eventually it’s made clear that they’re trapped in the room — Ma, for a few years; Jack, all his life. The door is kept locked by an electronic keypad, the combination to which only one person knows the code: Old Nick (Rectify’s Sean Bridgers). He brings Ma and Jack supplies when Jack is asleep. Supposed to be asleep, that is. Sometimes he watches from his bed inside the wardrobe. Of course, these supplies don’t come for free — after Old Nick does the rundown of what’s there, he crawls into bed with Ma, only to lock her and Jack in again when he leaves in the morning.
Eventually, we learn the sinister truth behind their captivity in the room (which Ma has aptly named Room). She devises a plan to escape with Jack, the details of which I won’t spoil here (that’s the trailer’s job). It works, and Jack and Ma find themselves on the outside world, reunited (or, in Jack’s case, united for the first time) with Ma’s family. From there, the main action of the film begins, as Ma tries to cope with the realities of life on the outside, and Jack begins his long journey of discovery of the outside world.
This is the kind of film where all of the moving parts seem to magically cohere into a breathtaking whole. This achievement is especially remarkable in a film where, if any one of the pieces fell out of place, the entire thing would fall apart at the seams. But, as it stands, the writing, acting, direction, and cinematography complement each other perfectly.
Each cast member, from the main players to the supporting roles, gives pitch perfect performances. Brie Larson, perhaps best known outside of the indie film circuit for 21 Jump Street and United States of Tara gives a powerful and moving performance. She is able, through the smallest intonation in her voice or movement of her eyes, to show us her true psychological state, even as she tries to keep it all together for her son. Speaking of whom, the relative newcomer Jacob Tremblay is worth a special mention. Children in movies are dicey propositions. But Tremblay absolutely nails it here. He gives a performance of depth and subtlety unmatched even by many experienced adult actors.
Director Lenny Abrahamson (Frank) expertly manages tone and tension, always knowing when to apply pressure to the audience and when to let them breathe. Of course, he had a strong base to work with: Emma Donoghue’s top-notch screenplay, based on her novel of the same name. None of that might mean anything, however, if it wasn’t for Danny Cohen’s measured cinematography.
It’s easy to try to put Room in a box. Is it a thriller? A crime story? A family drama? A psychological study? Well, sort of, not really, yes, and kind of. But more than any sort of genre one might try to assign the film, Room is a profoundly affecting, heartbreaking, and life affirming story about the exciting, tumultuous experience of growing up.