ARRESTING and heartbreaking, wrought with extremes of tension and love, “Room” is as evocative and unforgettable on screen as in the bestselling novel that inspired it.
This is the kind of film you never forget you saw. Originally crafted and ingeniously adapted by Emma Donoghue, “Room” burrows itself deep in the mind and becomes a permanent resident. It is a story of the transformative power of childhood innocence and parental love.
Tenderly and terrifyingly realized by director Lenny Abrahamson, the film succeeds with quiet camerawork and brilliant performances by its two leads, Brie Larson and 8-year-old breakout talent Jacob Tremblay.
Tremblay is Jack, the film’s sometime narrator, a little boy who lives with Ma (Larson) in Room: a small, windowless space with gray, soundproof walls. A bed and wooden wardrobe fill one corner; there’s also a TV, table, sink and toilet.
Jack has never been outside Room’s locked door. It’s the only place he has ever known, and to him, it’s a wonderland. Jack believes Room is all that exists — that trees and dogs and anything else he sees on television is pretend. Ma taught him so.
“TV persons are flat and made of colors,” Jack says in voiceover. “But me and you are real.”
For Jack, everything in Room is significant and interesting. Each morning, he greets the sink and wardrobe as though they’re friends. Every day, he reads aloud to Ma before they sprint around Room for track practice. On Jack’s fifth birthday, they even bake a cake in their tiny toaster oven.
He doesn’t realize he and Ma are prisoners of Old Nick, the man who knows the code to Room’s heavy metal door and comes in at night to make the bed squeak. But now that Jack is five, Ma tells him the truth and plans his escape.
For the first half of the film, Room is the only setting. The only people on screen are Jack and Ma. Yet their experiences crackle with energy and intimacy. Larson and Tremblay occupy their characters so completely, their plight becomes painfully real.
Abrahamson relies on straightforward images and natural sound to convey the world of Jack, Ma and “Room.” At times, the camera’s eye is low, as if to mimic Jack’s perspective. During his frenzied escape attempt, the camera is jostled and obscured, like he is.
Tremblay is pure magic in this film, deeply gifted and totally natural. He brings delightful innocence and profound depth to the curious boy at the heart of “Room.” He is the light to the darkness of Ma, which Larson embodies with heartbreaking truth.
If Jack is the hope in “Room,” Ma is the heart. Tremblay’s and Larson’s captivating performances are as memorable as the story itself. Three and a half stars out of four.