Room is one of the most unusual films you’ll see this year. I feel fortunate that I knew nothing about it going in; if you want to have the same experience, don’t read this or any other reviews. The movie opens with a young mother (Brie Larson) and her 5-year-old boy (Jacob Tremblay) going through their daily routine: playing with each other, sharing a secret shorthand language. It takes time to realize what’s going on: this loving parent and child are confined to one small room with a TV and window skylight their only connection to the outside world. How they got there and why they can’t leave is part of the story I can’t reveal.
But Room has another big surprise in store during its second half and I’m reluctant to discuss that, too. I’ll just say that it puts both mother and son to the ultimate test of survival, physically and emotionally, in ways one could never anticipate.
Emma Donoghue adapted her own novel, taking what was elliptical on the printed page and successfully making it real when acted out onscreen. Director Lenny Abrahamson enables us to vicariously experience what his characters are going through at every turn of the narrative, thanks in large part to the expressive performances of his leading actors. Larson has been doing good work for some time now (and rightly earned critical acclaim for her work in Short Term 12), while young Tremblay is a real find.
One of the reasons Room is so effective is that it puts us in the audience through the same kind of adjustment as its characters: just when we get accustomed to one way of life, we undergo a dramatic turnaround. Abrahamson’s empathy for his characters and depiction of their environment is sure-handed and tremendously effective.
Please don’t let the hype the film is generating build you up for a letdown: see Room soon and encourage your friends not to read about it. If you place yourselves in the same situation as its protagonists you will go through a uniquely dramatic experience. Then you’ll understand what all the shouting is about.