A quintessential example of an actor-driven movie, this adaptation of Emma Donoghue’s acclaimed 2010 novel (and she also wrote the film’s screenplay) may stumble in a few exterior areas, but the central performances from Brie Larson and young Jacob Tremblay are absolutely beyond reproach.
A young woman, Joy (Larson), has been kidnapped and held in seclusion in a room for seven years, and the product of unwanted advances from her captor, Old Nick (Sean Bridgers), is Jack (Jacob Tremblay), a five-year-old boy who has never seen beyond the confines of “room”, as he and his mother call it. When the chance arises for Jack to experience the outside world, however, Joy thrusts him into it.
Room should be a difficult film to talk about in respect to the significant gear-shift that occurs mid-way through, but consider that the film’s marketing has wantonly given it away already – that the pair escape their confinement earlier than you might think – and it becomes clear the film isn’t really so much about the pattern of events but the inner-workings of the characters’ minds.
Donoghue’s most tantalising prospect is to allow viewers to observe a boy who has little conception of existence as we know it, unfamiliar with how the concept of TV works, or how so many different types of animals can all fit on Earth. To see a young boy venturing out into the world, and the mixture of elation and terror that follows, is fascinating, all the more so because Tremblay is such a natural performer. Yes, his bleating does prove grating and irritating on occasion, but how else should a boy born into this lot behave? Anything else would feel unnatural.
Larson is the show-stealer, though, her gorgeous, fresh-face hidden behind some magnificent yet subtle make-up work which accentuates the powder keg of love, hate, and frustration that she disappears into here. Working opposite not only Tremblay but the always-sturdy William H. Macy and Joan Allen as her parents, she travels the emotional spectrum and is terrifically convincing across the lot.
As mentioned, it’s other areas where the movie falls down; Abrahamson’s direction verges on rather pat and workmanlike, unaided by a script that feels contrived and heavy-handed from time to time, nor Stephen Rennicks’ bombastic musical score, which favours orchestral swells when simple environmental noise would easier allow the audience to soak the moment in. None of these elements are deal-breakers, those for this critic’s money they hold the film back from being the masterpiece that many have touted it to be.
A tense, well-wrought dramatic thriller topped with outstanding performances, Room should do fine business for all involved, and rightly so.
Room is in US cinemas now and UK cinemas January 15th