Although less commercially driven, “Room” is to 2015 as “Gone Girl” was to 2014: An acclaimed film based on an acclaimed book adapted for the screen by the author that takes the viewer into deep, psychologically troubling places. Obviously, “Gone Girl” is a mystery thriller with a creepy darkness to it, while “Room” is more of a trauma study, but both stories also center on fictional characters at the center of a huge media story.
Jack (Jacob Tremblay) lives in ‘Room’ with his Ma (Brie Larson). ‘Room’ is all Jack has ever known, but after his fifth birthday, his mom decides to try explaining to him the truth — there is a world outside of ‘Room’ and they need to get out.
Writer Emma Donoghue gives us this story through Jack’s eyes as much as possible, and director Lenny Abrahamson (“Frank”) does an excellent job flowing back and forth between Jack’s idealistic view of ‘Room’ and the dark, terrifying real-world circumstances of it, and he continues this balance of perspectives in the film’s very different post-‘Room’ second half.
That’s where Larson comes in in a very complicated role, because there’s a tangible separation between the viewer and Ma, the adult who has endured this trauma. In most cases, she would be the easier character to relate to, but this is Jack’s story. Larson has to communicate an absolute roller coaster of emotions without the film focusing a ton of attention on her. She succeeds in being easy to relate to despite our lack of knowledge and insight into her character, outside of the fact that she’s undergone an unfathomable trauma.
Tremblay doesn’t give one of those child performances for the ages, but his job as Jack is to evoke the child within all of us because he’s a child narrator/main character in a story for adults. He acts with incredible authenticity, creating a connection with the audience so effortlessly.
Creating a connection that puts you in the shoes of the characters is far and away what “Room” does best. From the performances to the two-act story structure, Abrahamson works hard to envelop you, to provide a sense of claustrophobia, and then rip it all away, leaving you with a mixture of mental and emotional poignancy. Suddenly you start looking at characters and situations with a refreshed emotional perspective.
This effect compensates a bit for the lack of an especially compelling narrative in the second act (although one sequence in the film is absolutely heart-stopping). Eventually, plot sort of gives way to study and observation as we are left to sift through the emotional aftermath and watch these characters cope.
“Room” is in the very least a showcase of several emerging talents in front of and behind the camera, all of whom have big careers ahead of them. There’s a lot of great talent making great choices in this film, and though lots of other independent films are equally worthy of acclaim, it’s nice to see something like “Room” get some major recognition.
Directed by Lenny Abrahamson
Written by Emma Donoghue (screenplay, novel)
Starring: Brie Larson, Jacob Tremblay, William H. Macy, Joan Allen