Even without the sly appearance of Ohio license plates, it would've been clear from the industrial silos and cloudy autumn skies that Irish director Lenny Abrahamson was influenced in large part by the Ariel Castro house of horrors as he shaped and directed Room. The runaway bestselling novel by writer Emma Donoghue has been faithfully and, given the challenges of the source material, somewhat miraculously adapted. The Cleveland connection makes sense too, given that the story follows a young boy and his mother as they escape from captivity and (re)discover the outside world. It opens in wide release Friday. And be forewarned: Your guts will be so thoroughly punched that you may need abdominal padding.
The star of the show from start to finish is young actor Jacob Tremblay. He plays Jack, the 5-year-old whose belated introduction to the world is billed as the movie's magic hook. In the novel, told from Jack's point of view, readers are privy to his discoveries in an intimate way. A successful adaptation required a performer of rare and precocious gifts. Tremblay is. From his total acceptance of the room he occupies as the sum of the livable world — outside the room's door is outer space, his mother has taught him — to his tentative, and often overwhelming, first forays into new rooms and new experiences, his performance (coaxed by what must have been a profoundly tender and communicative director) is a marvel to behold.
There's a scene when a petrified Jack is executing the escape orchestrated by his mother. He wriggles free from a carpet in the bed of their captor's truck, where he's been playing dead. And as the final flap of fabric falls away, Jack sees, for the first time, in all its infinite vastness overhead, the sky. As you watch the huge, innocent eyes of this boy gobble up the world, accompanied by a crescendoing score, your heart may beat right out of its chest. It's the most stirring moment I've seen onscreen this year, Fury Road included.
Brie Larson is on-target as well. Her character has been imprisoned in a room for 7 years and has given birth to a child (born of nightly rapings), whom she wants only to protect. Larson will get Oscar attention in part because she appears with neither bra nor makeup, but her perpetual struggle to create normalcy in her horrifying circumstances, and then her struggle to find happiness after escaping them, are heartrending.
Though much of the film's trailer and marketing focus on Jack and his mom's life after they've escaped, a sizeable chunk of the movie occurs within the cramped confines of the "room." It's a credit to the designers and cinematographer Danny Cohen (The King's Speech, Les Miserables) that they made it a complete world. It's filmed with movement and perspective as Jack and his ma so painfully and gloriously inhabit it.