DIRECTED BY Lenny Abrahamson
STARS Brie Larson, Jacob Tremblay
Jacob Tremblay and Brie Larson in Room (Photo: A24)
Based on the bestselling book by Emma Donoghue, Room is unique among movies that I greatly admire and respect: I have no desire to ever watch it again. In that regard, it joins the likes of United 93 and Irreversible, other tough sells that demand to be seen due to their potency and artistry but don't especially lend themselves to repeat performances (countless people also place Requiem for a Dream in this category but, for whatever reason, that's a movie I never grow tired of viewing). But make no mistake: Room should not be missed, and for all the unease it stirs, it's ultimately a powerful tale of that indestructible love that can exist between mother and child.
The film begins in the room of the title. Five-year-old Jack (Jacob Tremblay) and his mom Joy (Brie Larson) live there, and only there. They are never allowed to leave the confines of the room, and their only contact with the outside world is a man Joy calls Old Nick (Sean Bridgers), whose regular visits entail him bringing much-needed supplies to Joy and Jack and having sex with a repulsed Joy while Jack sleeps in the closet. It's not long before it's made clear that Old Nick kidnapped Joy seven years prior, when she was a teenager, locking her up in his backyard shed and raping her on a regular basis. Jack was the result of one of those assaults, but Joy doesn't view him as belonging in any way to Old Nick. She's her son, and she doesn't want Old Nick even looking at the boy, much less talking to him. Joy has tried to escape from the room before, always unsuccessfully. But with Jack growing older and Old Nick growing more surly, she figures the time is ripe for her most concerted effort yet.
The sordidness of the situation makes for an uneasy and unshakable atmosphere, yet not once does the film feel exploitative in any manner. For that, credit Donoghue (adapting her own novel), director Lenny Abrahamson, and the two formidable performances anchoring the film. Larson matches and maybe exceeds her career-best work in Short Term 12 with a remarkably complicated personification as a young woman who was cheated out of some of her best years and is constantly forced to overlay her anger and insecurities with a hardened determination to survive and to protect. As for Tremblay, he delivers an instinctive performance completely devoid of the studied mannerisms and pleas for audience acceptance that are invariably found in the work of most child actors. His Jack whiplashes between being lovable and being bratty, between being an angel and being an annoyance. That's a real kid being presented on the screen, and the film benefits immeasurably from it.
Despite my hesitance, perhaps I will watch Room again, if only to again bask in the exemplary turns of its leading players and marvel at their unforced rapport (you really believe they could be mom and son). But I'm in no rush — for now, the movie is still sticking to me, like a sweat-soaked T-shirt after a night of dark, distressed dreams.