Adapted from Emma Donoghue’s gripping 2010 novel, Room is the story of Jack (Jacob Tremblay), a 5-year-old boy who lives with his mother in a sparse 10 x 10 shed. Jack has spent his entire childhood within these four walls, with his only exposure to the outside world coming via a battered old television set. As far as Jack is concerned, the people on the television aren’t real, and the only thing that lies outside “Room” is outer space.
Jack has no idea that his Ma (Brie Larson) has been held prisoner in this same structure for more than seven years, nor does he realize that he’s the product of the almost nightly rapes that Ma endures at the hands of Old Nick (Sean Bridgers), a menacing figure who punishes his captives by depriving them of food or cutting the power to their dwelling.
Desperate, mentally exhausted, and yet fiercely devoted to her son, Ma concocts a dangerous plan to help Jack escape the shed, leading to a breathlessly suspenseful sequence that introduces the film’s second half, where Ma and Jack must try to adapt to a “normal” life – or whatever passes for normal, as the media frenzy surrounding the family turns into a prison of its own.
If you somehow managed to miss 2013’s incredibly moving Short Term 12, in which Larson cemented herself as one of the most talented young actresses in the industry, then don’t worry – Room is another showcase of her incredible range and versatility. It’s a tragic and heartbreaking performance that will find plenty of audience members reaching for something to dab at the corners of their eyes – unless you’re like me, and just decide to let the floodgates open altogether.
But despite Larson turning in the best work of her career thus far, the film’s true revelation is Jacob Tremblay. From little moments like seeing a city skyline, eating pancakes, or petting a dog for the first time, Tremblay perfectly captures the simultaneous feelings of wonder and trepidation at each of these experiences.
With Room, director Lenny Abrahamson has crafted a film that’s as far removed from his previous effort (the rock-n-roll comedy Frank) as possible, with a pair of performances that are sure to be at the forefront when awards discussions begin. While the subject matter might carry a bit too much emotional weight for some viewers, Room is a brilliantly-crafted story about determination, perseverance, and the unbreakable bond between a mother and her child. Both harrowing and heartwarming, suspenseful and sweet, it’s an absolutely exceptional achievement, and one of the most emotional experiences I’ve ever had with a film.