Saturday, November 21, 2015

ROOM Is a Harrowing, Intense, Gripping Journey

 ROOM Review:

- Gripping, moving, and featuring some of the finest acting you'll see in a movie this (or any) year, ROOM is, in my view, one of the absolute must-see films of 2015. Looking at the film's premise and story-structure, ROOM could have easily been something far worse and far inferior. But the quality of the storytelling and acting is so high that ROOM becomes, in many ways, a masterclass in how to make a small story feel huge. Especially true here, as much of ROOM takes place in a confined space - a claustrophobic, underground bunker in which a young woman was forcibly taken to as a teenager and where she's been kept - trapped - for several years against her will. It sounds dark and bleak and hard-to-watch, I know. But what makes this film so remarkable is how it is able to take this story of hopelessness and make it into a story about perseverance and survival. And not always in the ways you might think. Suffice it to say, ROOM is an emotional rollercoaster and an edge-of-your-seat thriller.

Brie Larson absolutely destroys in the lead role here. I began singing the praises of Larson after her incredible turn in the movie Short Term 12. That was some of the finest acting I'd seen - but she's as good, if not better, in ROOM. Larson has a way of acting in such a naturalistic, nuanced manner that you forget you're watching scripted drama rather than documentary. Even in the "big" emotional moments, she grounds the movie in a cloak of raw humanity. We meet Larson unnamed character (referred to only as "Ma") after she's been trapped in the bunker for years. And in that time, she's been impregnated by her captor, and given birth to a son. The son, Jack, is now five years old - and he's literally known nothing outside of the confines of the bunker, which he and his mother refer to as "Room." To Jack, "Room" is the world. It is everything.

There is a lot of intrigue and humor to be found in the way in which Jack makes sense of his surroundings, and the way in which his mother protectively reinforces how he sees the world. Jack's mother makes up all kinds of stories about how Room is all there is and can ever be. Jack, in his own mind, has pieced together an all-consuming worldview based on the sometimes contradictory tidbits fed to him by his mom. But certain things puzzle him. Who are the people on TV? Where do the rats that make their way into Room come from, and where do they shuffle off to? And most troubling of all - who is the man who visits the bunker nightly, sometimes with food and clothes - but mostly carrying with him an air of menace and a scent of evil? Jack knows that the man is bad. He knows that he is not to talk to him. He knows that his mother detests him, but has to act amenable for their safety. But despite the seeming horror of this situation, what's moving and awe-inspiring is how thoroughly Larson has managed to shield her son from the *true* horror of where they are and how they got there. Though we laugh at the quirky way in which young Jack has been brought up to see the world, the early scenes of he and his mother in the bunker are also brimming with an almost maddening sense of tension.

But where the tension truly becomes unbearable is when Jack's mother decides it's finally time to escape, to make a real go of it - and that he is finally old enough to learn the truth about Room and why he and his mother are trapped there - and why, above all else, they must do everything in their power to get out.

The way the reality-shattering moments are played is perfection - the horror and disbelief and WTF-ness of finding out that everything you know is a lie is played with such wide-eyed wonder by young actor Jacob Tremblay that you have to think ... man, maybe this kid turns in an Oscar-worthy performance. I don't usually think kid performances are Oscar-worthy. But Tremblay is so good, so powerful in his acting in this film that he just might truly deserve a nomination and/or a win. 

And without spoiling anything, I will simply say this: there is an escape-attempt sequence in the film - and it's so intense, so edge-of-your-seat crazy that I found myself literally leaning forward and clasping my hands together in a mini, one-man prayer vigil - hoping against hope that these characters would turn out okay.

And I'll also say this: ROOM does not end where you think it ends. That the movie extends past a logical endpoint - and continues to explore the emotional ramifications of that logical endpoint - is a really gutsy move, that has all the potential in the world to completely backfire. But you're in good hands with ROOM. Larson and Tremblay are so good, and the emotional honesty of the script is so real - that the movie somehow makes its third act not only work, but serve as a fitting conclusion to the story that's come before.  Director Lenny Abrahamson impressed me with last year's quirky rock movie Frank. But the balancing act he manages here is a notch beyond what he's done before. This is potent, powerful filmmaking.

There is a lot of darkness in ROOM. But the movie goes above and beyond merely getting cheap thrills from its horror-movie like premise, and instead becomes something much more. This is a film about being trapped and about digging deep down to find the will to escape. This is a film about creating something from nothing and fighting to regain humanity and normalcy and a life worth living. Brie Larson takes you on a real, legit *journey* in this movie, and you feel stronger and better for having gone through it. I'll be very surprised if there's any single acting performance better than hers this year, and I'll be very surprised if many - or any - movies still to come in 2015 pack this kind of gut-punch. Go see ROOM.

My Grade: A

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