Room is neither an easy movie to watch, and its use of disturbing reality makes it a harrowing experience that never quite gets to the level of horrifying, but it’s one of the most unique movies of 2015, and stands as a large-scale metaphor for how scary the world can really be.
When Joy (Brie Larson) is abducted at age 17 by a strange man named Old Nick (Sean Bridgers) and stuck in a 10×10 garden shed that has been converted into the smallest, most dreary apartment possible. He later impregnates her after repeated sexual assault, and Joy gives birth to a baby boy, raising him until age five in the room (Joy is now seven years in). Once she realizes her boy Jack (Jacob Tremblay) has become old enough to begin to understand the plight of their situation, they begin engineering escape plans. Joy’s mom, dad, and stepdad are played by Joan Allen, William H. Macy, and Tom McCamus.
The way Room is filmed and presented is very unique. It’s not necessarily shot or paced at the sense of urgency you would suspect in a pretty distressing set of circumstances. It instead zooms in on objects, showing how personal they are to Jack as all he’s known is ‘Room.’ Every object is spoken about without any articles to supplement their description, giving ‘lamp,’ and ‘table,’ a very personal feel. All Jack knows is the room, and everything else he attributes to make-believe or part of the TV land. Then, he is locked in a closet when Old Nick comes again to assault Joy in the middle of the night.
Regardless of how you see this movie, I will give my score now, because I think that it’s important to see this without knowing spoilers. The remainder of this review and what happens will be in the spoilers section below, but for now, just know that this is a very good film and worth watching, but it doesn’t achieve the art-house perfection it searches for. It never quite gets emotional enough or does the suspense quite well enough. It’s the exact definition of a damn good film that isn’t transcendent.
***SPOILERS SECTION: PROCEED WITH CAUTION***
So, they escape, they escape in the most thrilling scene of the movie, where Jack ends up saving them by a well-executed plan. After that, the remaining two acts of the film are them dealing with what assimilating to normal life is like, with the help of an excellent Joan Allen as the grandmom. The ages of the two are interesting, Joy being 24 and Jack being 5, two ages where the world gets a lot bigger for most people, whether it be the first day in school or the first year of having a real job after college. Part is Joy dealing with how to let Jack go and become a normal kid, lessening the bond they developed while in Room, but also her depression at realizing how much of her life that she lost.
The best parts of the entire film are watching Jack learn to play with real toys, and become a normal boy again with help from his grandmom and grandmom’s boyfriend. Small scenes like him getting a haircut, or seeing a dog for the first time, are so heartbreaking and interesting at the same time. You find yourself smiling at the amazement of the discovery. He really is the lead, narrating the beginning (to limited success actually) and then being the focus of the end as Joy’s Ma is phased out just a tiny bit. Her own struggles begin to really show after all that has happened. These aftershock scenes are actually great, leading to a heartwarming ending, and the positivism in the end is a bit surprising considering the real scope of what the film is about, whether it be a journey into the real world, or a mother/son relationship and letting go.
The real let-down is the style in which Room is made. It’s hard to not want it to be more disturbing, more arthouse, with a darker tone. The scenes in the room actually crawled, and Jack’s narration can be grating and tough to deal with. When a true source of conflict feels real after they escape, the film becomes much better, but so many questions are asked about how she’s never managed to best Old Nick. I realize that the knife’s tips were all cut and that it was pretty fool-proof as a system, but there wasn’t a real dread to the Room scenes. You feel their stress, but the scope of the film isn’t quite enough to prove the horror. The second and third acts, bolstered by great performances and the thrilling escape scene, really work. Other small things like the dead plot-line about the real grandfather being unable to accept Jack, or the subplot about Joy’s guilt in keeping Jack instead of trying to convince Old Nick to have him adopted was a bit confusing and heavy-handed. They were small spots that could be larger parts of the picture that really become insignificant despite them being interesting. It shows that translation from the book to the movie may have hurt the quality slightly. Either way, it’s worth recommending and is a good, often-touching indie film, but it’s not the disturbing, transcendent art-house film I expected.