Maybe it seems like a bad idea for a movie. You might assume this whole captor-drama film would be claustrophobic in its ideas and execution, and in fact it begins and ends with virtually unobservable ceremonies. But Room, made by the deft and adventurous director Lenny Abrahamson (Frank), is at times creepy, thrilling, tender, melodramatic, and, in its final moments, suffused with unexpected beauty. The range is surprising scene from scene, but the movie opens quietly with a girlish boy named Jack (Jacob Tremblay) waking his mother (called Ma throughout the film and played by Brie Larson) to remind her he is five today. Amid cake-baking preparations, we slowly learn that a male sex predator has confined them to a single-room soundproofed shed rigged with a toilet, stove, electricity, and wavy-imaged television. Their party is all about Ma and Jack making do under hellish conditions.
The rest is a close chronicle of their life, escape, and its aftermath. What you might not expect, however, is the subtle and moving structure of themes that shift in parallel patterns through the movie, based on a novel by Emma Donoghue. Jack is the offspring of their captor, a man named Old Nick (medieval English for the chief devil in hell), but Ma has an amazingly strange mythology about that paternity. (It’s not Stockholm syndrome, by the way.) On the other hand, Ma’s father (William H. Macy) offers her betrayal by cowardice. The whole film (like Frank) is a weird but soundly structured family parable.
But the best part is Larson’s performance. We don’t have another actress like her, though Greta Gerwig comes close, capable of morphing from scene to scene yet completely integrated, too. She’s plain and then beautiful, both resourceful and pathetically naïve. Toward the end, the camera stays on her face as she whispers a hopeless almost-prayer. This movie about human resilience has its most perfect image here — a woman wishing the traumatic past away even though she’s smart enough to know she can’t.