A five-year-old lives in a small enclosed room with only a skylight to see into the world and has been told by his mother that room is the entire world, except for some vaguely defined outer space from which a man known only as “Old Nick” comes in periodically to bring them food and rape the mom while the child hides in the closet.
By the way, while I won’t say anything here that’s not in the trailer, we went into this mostly blind and it may be more enjoyable that way. So apart from “good film, highly emotionally charged, very tough to watch in spots” you might want to stop here if you prefer not knowing how things will turn. If you’ve seen the trailer or you’re worried about whether this might be a, um, triggering experience, read on.
Except for this stuff actually happening from time to time, there’s a pretty good movie hook, and one we’ve seen, at least in horror movies from the woman’s perspective—or the villain’s. This is the first time I can recall it being done from the perspective of a boy actually “born in captivity”, as it were.
The first half of this movie is definitely in the thriller/horror mold, as Ma (Brie Larson, Short Term 12, The Spectacular Now) tries to manage her sanity, keep Jack (Jacob Tremblay, Smurfs 2) safe, and ultimately plans an escape from Old Nick (Sean Bridgers, “Deadwood”, Jug Face). As the trailer makes clear, the escape does occur, and it’s quite a gripping scene as it is the child who ends up having to carry out the plan. This is where most such movies would end.
The second half of Room is the subsequent adaptation to life outside the room for mother, child and mother’s family. This is, I think, a less well-mined subject than the trapped-in-a-room scenario, and certainly it’s different in tone from the first half of the film. This gives the film an unusual rhythm, which the Boy and I both approved considering how the “beats” in a lot of films these days (mainstream or not) can be almost mechanical in their precision. That is, you know exactly when something is going to happen (and even what’s going to happen) before it happens.
So, in a way, you end up with two arcs: The more thriller-oriented arc followed by a heavy drama arc which doesn’t, thankfully, try to bring Old Nick back to stay on the horror track—though if that hasn’t been done, I suppose it will be shortly.
Great, great acting all around. Truly. Brie Larson continues to quietly tear up the screen whenever she’s on it. The young Trembly does an amazing job, for which some credit must certainly go to director Lenny Abrahamson (Frank) and doubtless screenwriter/novelist Emma Donaghue.
The choice of Bridgers for Old Nick was also an excellent one, I think, because he’s not a big man, maybe 5’10” and quite slender of build, but (as an adult male) he could be seen as one who might overpower, intimidate and abuse a 17-year-old girl even if she’s not much shorter. Horror movies always go for the deformed hulking brutes with big frames, like Kathy Bates. (I kid!)
William Macy has a too short role as the alienated father while Joan Allen looks good, if a little odd, as the mom-who-never-gave-up-hope. You kind of expect great performances out of these two, and they get the publicity going and probably sell a few tickets, but I also really liked Canadian Tom McCamus as stepdad Leo, both in terms of his acting and the role the character played. As someone who wasn’t immediately affected by the kidnapping and subsequent trauma, he’s in a good position to make a connection with Jack, and he’s quite believable in this role. Wendy Crewson (The Santa Clause) has a tiny role as a TV talk-show host who…well, let’s just say her role is pivotal.
Stephen Rennicks supplies a great score that reminds at times of Thomas Newman and (other times) Danny Elfman.
There was a lot of sniffling in the theater during quite a few scenes of this film and not entirely (or even mostly) from delicate, feminine noses. It’s gut-wrenching, heart-wrenching, highly emotional stuff all around. The Boy and I liked it, quite a bit.