As when I reviewed the novel, writing about Room is problematic when it comes to spoilers. The climax comes early in the film, and the last half is impossible to discuss without giving something away. I think the marketers of the film are assuming that people know what will happen, but I will not, so spoilers are throughout; tread lightly.
With a screenplay by the source author, Emma Donoghue, Room varies only a little from the book. Basically, we open in a small room, which is in reality a garden shed in the backyard of a kidnapper. Inside are a young woman (Brie Larson) and her five-year-old son, Jack (Jacob Tremblay). She has been held captive by “Old Nick,” (Sean Bridgers) for seven years, never stepping outside of the shed in that time. Therefore, of course, Jack has never known anything but life inside what he calls Room.
Director Lenny Abrahamson gives us a taste of what that is like, as the first half or so of the film is shot entirely inside that shed. Much of it is from Jack’s point of view, so we see things from a low point of view. When Bridgers visits to have sex with his mother, Jack is forced to sleep inside a wardrobe, through which he looks through slats, seeing and hearing only glimpses of what is going on.
When Jack turns five, Larson decides it’s now or never, and plots to escape, with Jack playing dead. It is at this point that you should stop reading if you don’t know want to know what happens next.
Room is a bit like the allegory of the cave–our reality is what we perceive. Jack’s is the small room. There is a TV in the room, but to make his life less complicated his mother tells him that what is on TV is not real. But she decides to level with him on his fifth birthday (he then says he wishes he was four again). She wants him to know that there is a whole wide world out there. He doubts this, but when he is taken out into Bridgers’ truck and sees the sky in full view (all he could see before was through a skylight) he’s almost completely overwhelmed, and will spend the rest of the film adjusting to a life he never knew possible.
In the book, there are more details, such as Jack having to get used to wearing shoes and dealing with other children. The film is a bit more mundane, with the transition much smoother–he has to learn how to walk up and down stairs, and Larson, who never stopped breastfeeding him, cuts him off. The film focuses more on Larson, who has trouble coming to grips with the decision she had in having Jack and then keeping him. A TV interviewer cuts her to the quick by suggesting that Larson might have been selfish in keeping him with her, imprisoned just like she was. William H. Macy, as her father, can’t even look at Jack, realizing he is the offspring of his daughter’s abductor.
Room is a good, taut film, but isn’t as good as Larson’s performance, which will probably earn her an Oscar nomination. It grapples with things that one can only imagine–living seven years in a shed, knowing there is a world out there, having a child in those circumstances, and then dealing with the real world after going through that. Larson is charismatic and sharp in the role, not milking it for sympathy, instead playing the truth of the situation.
Tremblay, who was about eight when he filmed the role, is also good, as the film couldn’t succeed without him. It’s a natural and convincing performance, although there are so many good juvenile performances these days I wouldn’t call it transcendent. Joan Allen is very good as Larson’s mother,
Room is more about the bond between mother and child and the perspective one has on their surroundings than it is about a crime. We see a brief TV clip that Bridgers has been arrested, but we don’t have anything to do with a trial or what happens to him. Instead the focus is on Larson and Tremblay, and how they cope with the transition.