There is a certain aesthetic that defines the seasonal outpour of movies that more cynical moviegoers scorn as “Oscar-bait”. The camerawork in such films travels the middle road between subtlety and officiousness, and it is just subdued enough to be impressive. The script is usually open to a range of interpretation and emotion on the part of the main actors, often tinged with sentimentality easily understood by an equally accommodating range of audience members.
Most importantly, these movies do their best to differentiate themselves from the blockbuster. The pace and action are dialed back, and they opt for a calm self-confidence in their own resonance and message that ironically homogenizes with the tens of other maverick productions released around the same time. The worst of these movies ring with self-importance, flattening any interest in the actual happenings of the plot and offering more than enough reason to dread stepping into the local indie theater before the snow has stopped. Most of them, however, offer happy repose from the more explosive impudence of summer films and a chance for the average Joe to appreciate the medium of film. “Room” is one of those movies.
The movie features a woman who was kidnapped and forced to bear the criminal’s child as a teenager. The child and she have lived in a one-room shack ever since, and their isolation from the rest of the world is only broken by the criminal’s periodic visits to check on their well-beings. The room is all that the young boy has ever known. The sole window built into the house and the television are his only gateways to the outside, and what he sees in the former may just as well be as fictional as what he sees in the latter. His mother, unsurprisingly, is deeply troubled by this and decides to formulate a plan to escape and to raise her child in the outside world.
The room is the key thematic pivot of the entire film. It represents the extent of what we view as reality, or what we ultimately believe matters. While its walls protect us, they also limit us when we refuse to see what lies beyond them.
“Room” is ultimately a movie about perception and how growing up transforms our perceptions by forcing us to abandon our rooms. The struggle the mother faces when escaping the room, then, is reflective of the pains that accompany maturation. The movie’s greatest strength is its ability to crystallize and develop this theme using accessible symbols such as the mother, the boy, the criminal and most importantly, the room. That development takes a rather interesting turn halfway into the film, and many may begin to question to where the plot will go next. But the film confidently strides to interesting places (literally and metaphorically), cleverly playing with the idea that children are not the only ones subject to the imprisonment of the mind’s eye.
There is not much to fault the film. The actors turn in performances proportional to the quality of the writing. A particular stand-out performance is Jacob Tremblay as the son: it is one that will go a long way to dismantle unfavorable stereotypes about child actors. The film does start to drag by its last third, but the final scene manages to tie most of the character arcs in an extremely tidy knot that leaves little room for dissatisfaction. To conclude, the film’s ambition stretches no farther than the ability of the filmmakers. From another perspective, though, that may be this film’s “room.” Because its aims are so laser-focused, there comes a point where its movements become predictable. Because the characters are necessarily tied to the development of the central theme, the plot can become far too easy to track. Aside from the event that starkly divides the film in two halves, there is very little here to offer intrigue; every scene of the film rides on the momentum and in the direction of the last. By the time the credits roll, what remains is an extremely competent film, well worthy of filling the screen, but there is no guarantee that it will do the same to the moviegoer’s heart for the entirety of the film.