“Room” is a suspense thriller, a trauma survivor’s journey, and, foremost, a love story centering on a mother and son who help each other stay emotionally afloat during and after years of brutal captivity. The storytelling may not match the acting, but this drama delivers an impressive wallop.
Lenny Abrahamson makes films about people transported from their comfort zones to somewhere horrifying. His ability to depict difficult subjects (mental illness in his dark-comic marvel “Frank”) with sensitivity makes him a fitting director to bring writer Emma Donoghue’s adaptation of her novel to the screen.
Joy Newsome (Brie Larson) was abducted at age 17 and locked in a shed by a rapist called Old Nick (Sean Bridgers). Two years later, she gave birth to a son, Jack (Jacob Tremblay). Now a sweet 5-year-old, Jack lives in the shed with his still-imprisoned mother.
Joy has kept Jack unaware of their predicament by creating a fairy-tale picture of their existence. Consequently, Jack views their cramped living space, which he calls simply “Room,” as a kind place where fixtures as mundane as a sink are wonderful. When Old Nick enters, Joy puts Jack in the closet so he won’t see what the bearded man does to her.
Around the midway point, a suspense passage places mother and son in the outside world. Jack begins engaging with people. Joy, in a posttraumatic miasma, is less resilient.
Donoghue presents the drama largely from Jack’s point of view, and Tremblay plays this crucial role with credibility and a lovely childlike buoyancy.
The problem is that the focus on Jack, which seems intended to offset the grimmer material, shortchanges Joy, whose struggles are more compelling and deeply affecting.
The story also suffers from love-conquers-all simplism.
“Room” nonetheless has a powerful, moving effect.
Abrahamson and Donoghue depict Joy’s situation harrowingly and without sensationalism or woman-in-danger cliches. Old Nick appears in the form of mere glimpses and vocal bits caught by Jack through slats in the closet.
The filmmakers thoughtfully explore the reverberations of trauma and the workings of the coping mechanism.
Also noteworthy is the camera’s fascinating presentation of Jack’s world as Jack perceives it.
Most of all, the movie is a life-embracing story of a mother-child bond and the strength and beauty of a mother’s love, made stirring by its lead performers.
While the irresistible Tremblay shines, Larson soars. She brings many shades to Joy, whose face can register anguish in a private moment and then radiate positive spirit when she interacts with Jack. Together, the two strike emotional gold.
Joan Allen and an underused William H. Macy, as Jack’s separated grandparents, and Tom McCamus, as Grandma’s new boyfriend, play supporting roles.
Starring: Brie Larson, Jacob Tremblay, Joan Allen, Sean Bridgers
Written by Emma Donoghue
Directed by Lenny Abrahamson
Running time: 1 hour, 53 minutes