It's safe to say that you have probably never seen a film like Room. And it's a tough one to review, because it's one of those films that you really should try to see knowing as little as possible beforehand (although it's based on a bestselling novel, so there is every chance you will have read it). It's a harrowing hostage drama, but at the same time an uplifting, optimistic sort-of fairytale.
Room is told from the point of view of five-year-old Jack (Tremblay). Jack lives with his mother, Joy (Larson), in a single room, in a shed in the garden of the man who kidnapped his mother seven years earlier. Room is the only world that Jack has ever known, and Ma is the only person he has ever met or spoken to. They are together 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and they do everything together: eating, bathing, playing, exercising, and sleeping – except on the nights when Joy's captor, "Old Nick", comes by to deliver supplies and rape her, and Jack sleeps in the wardrobe. For Jack, Room is his entire world, it's all he knows. Everything outside Room is "outer space", or not real, only television. But when Joy learns that Old Nick has been laid off from his job, she decides that if she and Jack are to survive, they have to escape.
Room was adapted by Donoghue from her own novel, and she has done an amazing job of turning what seemed to be simply unfilmable into one of the most compelling and moving stories you will see on screen this year. The novel is told completely from Jack's point of view, which is a difficult thing to translate to film, but director Abrahamson has managed to do it well. It's a film based on pretty grim material – kidnapping, captivity, isolation and rape – but Room is anything but depressing and maudlin. It's a film that has an awful lot going on – on first glance it seems to simply be a life-affirming story about the relationship between a mother and child. But there is so much more to it. While in the Room, the film is a story about survival, and coping in exceptional circumstances and staying sane. As Joy's and Jack's world moves from the confined space of their single room into the wider, real world – and Joy is reunited with her (now divorced) parents, played by Allen and Macy – it becomes a film about rebirth, nature versus nurture, about dealing with loss and grief, and major life changes.
It's a beautiful, heartlifting film, full of amazing performances. Larson is stunning, building a complex and complicated character with a singular strength and purpose, who understandably struggles to keep it all together once she and Jack are rescued. And Tremblay is astounding as Jack, bringing real vulnerability and believability to this important, central role. If you have any semblance of a soul, Room will move you to tears.