Posted by Joel Copling on October 30, 2015

From the start, the rules of "Room" are established thoroughly and captured through director Lenny Abrahamson and cinematographer Danny Cohen's cameras with an appropriate sense of claustrophobia. Extreme close-ups are the audience's guide and friend here, and it's been a long while since they were used so well, capturing textures and items and expressions as through the eyes of the younger of our two protagonists. He's seeing a world familiar to us but new to him, and the reason is as haunting as it is disturbing: He and his mother have been held captive as prisoners for the last seven years. He is now five years old. Yes, that's an invitation to do some disconcerting math.

Jack (Jacob Tremblay) and his Ma (Brie Larson) are getting by just fine for two victims of abduction, except that Jack was born in captivity and has no comprehension of the outside world. Actually, scratch that: Jack has no comprehension of an outside world. For here are the fixtures of his and Ma's little space: A toilet, a bathtub, a wardrobe in which to "sleep" when their captor Old Nick (Sean Bridgers in a tricky, chilling performance) visits in the night, a TV which represents a magical land of things that, to Jack, are too big to possibly be real, the door to which no one but Old Nick knows the passcode, and the skylight whose view reaches to the clouds.

This is Room. It is the only world Jack knows. Dogs, cats, trees, grass, and other people are concepts and no more than that. Ma knows better. She was 17 when Old Nick lured her into a false sense of security with a sick (and entirely fictional) dog as bait. She wanted to protect Jack's innocence, but that time is gone (The scene when she levels with him is a particularly affecting one, because all children get this blast of pragmatic truth at some point and just as bluntly--if through hopefully different circumstances). They hatch an escape plan (or two, as the first one fails) and are found in a particularly intense sequence that leads to the captor's own capture.

The drama of the second half lies in the aftermath of their rescue and return home. Her parents have split (The implication of why is an obvious and heartbreaking one) and the mother has taken another husband. The elders here have wildly different reactions to the situation of their daughter's return. The mother, Nancy (Joan Allen), wants to be the grandmother, with all that entails of the positive and repressive varieties. The father, Robert (William H. Macy), wants nothing to do with Jack for reasons the film leaves for the audience to figure out. The stepfather, Leo (Tom McCamus), simply wants to leave a positive impression on the child. All of these reactions are as complex as they are entirely human and flawed, and Emma Donoghue's screenplay (based on her novel) is a delicate balancing act of never villifying any choice they make.

The performances are an enormous part of why this material works. Larson is intense and compassionate as Ma, whose resolve is broken even after she escapes that hellish prison and is thrust into the world of media-crazy notoriety (An interview goes very badly when she is asked why she didn't make a certain sacrifice for her son's safety; incredulity meets something less discernible--perhaps curiosity?--in this broken woman's eyes). Tremblay, whose performance here is an audacious debut to say the least, narrates the film with snippets into the mind of a boy born with Stockholm Syndrome (Certainly Old Nick is the only man's he's ever known, and this movie explores what that might mean in a scene where mother and son revisit Room to find only the crumbled effects of their former life). "Room" is perceptive about a type of humanity that we rarely ever see and special for that reason.

Film Information

Brie Larson (Ma), Jacob Tremblay (Jack), Sean Bridgers (Old Nick), Joan Allen (Nancy), Tom McCamus (Leo), William H. Macy (Robert), Megan Park (Laura).

Directed by Lenny Abrahamson and written by Emma Donoghue, based on the novel by Donoghue.

Rated R (language).

118 minutes.

Released in select cities on October 16, 2015.