Director : Lenny Abrahamson
Writer : Emma Donohue
Restricted narratives are a useful way to build tension and adding physical confinement to the mix helps to keep the keep characters in one place. Whether it’s Cube, Buried or even 12 Angry Men, the desire to ‘get out’ drives much of the plot. Room starts out with a claustrophobic premise, but when they escape, you really wish they hadn’t.
Room begins in a small single room occupied by Ma (Brie Larson) and Jack (Jacob Tremblay) and the set design is a meticulous masterpiece, with every item in the room feeling lived in and necessary, every detail speaking to a hard fought history. Even the absence of items speaks volumes.
In the opening scenes we get a sense of their relationship, their routines and the fact that they are locked in. Their only visitor is Old Nick (Sean Bridges) who turns out to be their captor, provider and their only link to the outside world.
You will have thought of a dozen ways to attempt an escape before Ma and Jack even discuss it. But don’t expect them to team up and use their individual skills to defeat their captor. Don’t expect a daring escape that will take months to plan and tense moments to execute. No, no. Such expectations are a path to disappointment. Room is a drama, with a capital D. It is more concerned with exploring the effect of long term confinement on a young girl and the child that comes as a result of her tortures.
Jack’s fifth birthday becomes a trigger for Ma to be more honest about their situation and he doesn’t take it well. While adults regularly lie to kids in the outside world, at that age you would only normally have to worry about whether or not Santa Claus is real, but Jack has to deal with the fact his entire universe is not that one room with a small skylight.
Despite the lack of action, except for one stressful ride in the back of a truck, Room does provide an excellent platform for an acting showcase. Brie Larson's makeup free performance clearly deserves her Best Actor gong and Jacob Trembly gives a wonderfully realistic portrayal of a boy who’s entire world is eleven feet by eleven feet.
But so far, we have only covered the first hour of a two hour movie. Once they get outside the room and the story looses it's focus on the meticulous interior details, you will feel your own attention slip away as well.
It’s not that you don’t care for the plight of Ma and Jack. You get to know them both and you genuinely hope that they escape. So when they do, you are happy for them and you wish them well for the rest of their lives, but it doesn't feel that spending an hour dealing with the aftermath was the right choice.
We spend time with them at the hospital, we spend time with them at home. We learn how the kidnapping affected the broader family and how they react to the existence of Jack. The longer it goes on you begin to wish that Old Nick breaks out of prison and comes after them so they get the chance for retribution, but that’s not the type of movie this is.
Once we got out of the room the world felt to big, existence without boundaries is scary and maybe the frightening part of it is the possibility of pointlessness. Perhaps that's what the second hour was really trying to tell us.