Room takes a nightmarish premise in an impossibly contained set and turns it into one of this year's most emotionally poignant films. I will say, I don't think I've ever cried so consistently during a film's entire two-hour run time. When the film opens, we see mother and son held captive in a tiny garden shed making the most of their real-life hell, though Ma (played by Brie Larson in her best role to date) does what any good mother would and doesn't let her son Jack (Jacob Tremblay) into the terrifying reality of their situation. To Jack—who is seen celebrating his fifth birthday in the opening chapter—this Room is all he knows. He was born in captivity, after his mother was abducted and imprisoned by a serial rapist ("Old Nick") seven years ago, when she was 17. But Jack, protected by Ma from Old Nick's cruelty, doesn't comprehend that there's an entire world outside of the room, or that they are prisoners to a monster. If that sounds like the synopsis to a horror movie or a captivity thriller, then you'll soon learn that Room is neither; rather, it's unexpectedly uplifting.
Much of that comes from seeing things from the untainted point of view of the child, who, thanks to his mother, has kept his unbroken spirit sacred. The most abominable parts of the film (like "Old Nick" raping Ma every night) is mostly kept off-screen, and only barely visible through cracks in the wardrobe, where Jacob is told to hide when "Old Nick" is over. Emma Donoghue, who wrote the screenplay and the novel the film is based on, has also expertly crafted dialogue to make the child's perspective so believable. And the writing comes to life beautifully with actor Jacob Tremblay, who gives one of the best performances of the year as the 5-year-old Jack. With blissful ignorance, he's genuinely delighted by little moments (he makes toys out of eggshells and cardboard pieces, and every morning he makes sure to say "good morning" to the objects around the room)—that is, until, he has to face the scariest and bravest moments of his life. When Jack turns five, Ma decides to tell him about the reality of Room—that there's a whole other world out there that doesn't solely exist inside the TV—and they soon come up with a plan to get Jack out of there so he can run for help. It's no spoiler that Jack succeeds in getting out (as I told you earlier, this movie isn't a captivity thriller); in Room, the escape isn't the point.
Instead, Room feels more like a fantasy story. Inside Room, Jack believes the world directly outside the door is outer space. With just a skylight in their garden shed, it does at times actually feel like Jack and Ma are the only people on the planet existing in their own spaceship. When they finally make it out and spend their first night in the real world at the hospital, Jack asks his mother if they're on a different planet. Naturally, the outside world is scary and unfamiliar, and in a subtly heart-wrenching moment, Jack asks if they can return to the safety of Room, to Ma's sad perplexion. This is significant because it shows just how well Ma has kept Jack safe from the turmoil.
Brie Larson has been garnering a lot of Oscar buzz from this film, and rightfully so. As Ma, Larson is so genuine in expressing the complexities of the emotions a mother would in a situation like that: She's broken, but she needs to put on a smile for Jack. Her terror and tragedy are contained in front of him, and it's that kind of subtle performance that makes Larson a standout. But when she can't contain it, she gives it her all. While it initially seems like Ma is the one who is protecting Jack, it becomes clear that Jack protects his mother too. The only reason Ma has any will left to live is because of Jack, and the only reason she was able to get out is because Jack was brave for her. (Later, we learn Jack "saves" Ma again, in a scene that'll turn the waterworks on full blast.)
In the latter two-thirds of the movie, Room makes sure to stay grounded from the fairy tale-like tone it takes within Jack. Though getting out is the victorious moment, real life is rarely a "happily ever after," and that shows in the struggles they face in adapting to normal-ish life. William H. Macy makes a small cameo as Ma's biological father, but unable to accept Jack into the family (it's left unspoken, but it's clear he can't accept the offspring of his daughter's rapist), he coldly leaves the dinner table, never to return to the film. There's no resolution there, but life doesn't always come with neat resolutions. Slowly but surely, Jack comes to accept other characters in his life, like grandma, her new boyfriend, and a neighborhood friend, suggesting that mother and son will learn to live apart, but that the bond formed in Room will never be broken. We're not sure what will happen after the credits roll, but we can at least hope for a happily ever after.