The generous billboards for Room won’t tell you one very important thing — it’s actually a double feature.
Based on the 2010 novel by Emma Donoghue, which is itself based on several real-world extended kidnapping cases, Room reveals itself through the eyes of Jack Newsome (Jacob Tremblay), who celebrates his fifth birthday at the film’s start. His mother, Joy “Ma” Newsome (Brie Larson), was kidnapped by Old Nick (Sean Bridgers) seven years beforehand to serve as his rape slave, and he’s never been out of the garden shed where she’s held his entire life. After about an hour of this, he and Ma hatch a daring escape, and spend the rest of the film dealing with the aftereffects of their captivity.
This is Room’s most prominent aspect — it’s two movies. There’s Room, then there’s Room 2: the Next Hour of Movie. Two-act movies can be done well, but this one is bungled. There really is no connection between the acts. All conflict from the first is resolved, and the second is a completely different story with different conflicts and different characters but the same tone. That’s what makes it so jarring — there isn’t any significant change in the film’s style. They don’t take the opportunity to do anything artistic and justify the inherent awkwardness.
Everything about the transition indicates it as a climax. Everything you know about storytelling, every fiber of your being is prepared for the movie to end, but it just presses on for another hour or so. Perhaps, with the climax in the center, it would have done better to take after Memento’s unique timeline and play out predominantly through flashbacks.
The film is stunning. Most of the time you hate watching stupid little kids, but Tremblay gets everything just right as Jack, both in courage and paralytic fear. You’ve also got to buy what Bridgers is selling as Old Nick. It takes a certain kind of sick dissociation to build your own rape dungeon in the backyard then constantly remind your victim how good you’ve been to them — I mean, they’re alive, right? — and Bridgers pulls it off.
Larson is getting most of the attention for this and is the clear frontrunner for Best Actress in what would more or less be a make-up award for 2013’s Short Term 12, which everyone should see. She’s consistently spectacular, and it hurts me that she’s still a C-list actor at best, but Room should change all that. Her performance, however, is much more muted.
Acting, as much as it’s being praised, is far from the main appeal here. It’s more defensive, about believability — good to the effect that you don’t notice it. Room is good because it makes you feel something. It brings you low, then high, then low again like a nasty ocean current. It’s an experience, though not necessarily one you’ll enjoy in any traditional sense.
Leopold Knopp is a formerly professional film critic, licensed massage therapist and journalism student at the University of North Texas. At what point to you found a support group for white people? Never. You never found a support group for white people. I’ve had a change of heart in regard to reader input. It is now welcomed and encouraged. Like Reel Entropy on Facebook, follow it on Twitter @reelentropy, and shoot questions to reelentropy@.