Past the Popcorn: Hard-Hitting Room is an Indie Film Worth Seeing

by Jeff Walls

The new kidnapping drama Room starts out just like most of those enclosed-space thrillers that take place almost entirely in a single location, but it quickly becomes so much more.  Thanks largely to the terrific lead performances by Brie Larson and 9-year-old Jacob Tremblay, Room becomes a powerful emotional drama that hits all the right beats.

Larson plays a young woman who we come to know mostly as “Ma.”  She has been living in the same single-room garden shed ever since she was kidnapped and locked in there seven years earlier.  The movie opens on the fifth birthday of her son Jack, who was fathered by her captor in the first couple years of her captivity.  Despite the incredible limitations caused by being stuck in a single room, Ma has done the best she possibly could to raise Jack properly, keeping him safe and healthy while encouraging his imagination.  So far, she has kept the truth of their situation from Jack, but she now believes he is old enough to understand the truth.  The problem is that life in “room” is the only life that young Jack has ever known.

Like the best single-set dramas, Room immediately locks the audience into the enclosed space right along with the characters.  Just like Ma and Jack, our only window into the outside world is the room’s lone skylight and the fading television set.  As such, it is almost as much of a shock to us as it is to them when we are able to escape into the outside world.

room-insetThe escape attempt sequence is a masterwork of suspense and drama.  It will have viewers on the edge of their seats and proves to be one of the most thrilling sequences of any movie released this year.  But Room is much more than just a prisoner escape drama.  It is an emotionally powerful character study that focuses as much on the emotional after-effects of the characters’ captivity as it does the captivity itself.  The movie hits all the right emotional beats.  Just when you think that the movie is starting to wear a little thin, it strikes you with another emotional chord.

The key to the drama is the performances.  Brie Larson is truly remarkable, both during her character’s captivity and afterwards.  During her captivity, we see her be the woman she needs to be for her son, and afterwards, we see her revert back to the teenager who once mistakenly agreed to help a stranger with his sick dog.  The actress reportedly really did lock herself in an enclosed space for a month to help her get an idea of what her character was going through and the results of this method acting definitely comes across in her performance.

Then there is young Jacob Tremblay.  The actor was only 8 years old when this movie was filmed, but the depth found in his character suggests that the actor has talent far beyond his years.  Because Jack is raised in captivity, everything he sees on the outside is new.  He has never seen stairs before, let alone walked up or down them.  He’s never met a real dog before or even knew what to do with a Lego.  Tremblay does an excellent job of portraying the balance between his character’s wonder at these new experiences with his anxiety and fear.

Room will not be for everyone.  It is a hard-hitting drama that never tries to be a crowd-pleaser, but for those willing to join these characters as they cope with and overcome a horrific situation that hopefully none in the audience will ever have to experience themselves, Room is an emotional journey worth taking.

Room opens today at the AMC Pacific Place 11 in downtown Seattle. Won’t it be nice when Des Moines has its own theater again? It’s reportedly gonna happen! Until then, eat local before you go!

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