Captive hearts

There are so many ways in which the screen adaptation of Emma Donoghue’s surprise best-seller Room could have gone wrong, but thanks to Donoghue (who penned the script and was an executive producer) and director Lenny Abahamson, Room is a singular, powerful achievement – and one of the best films of the year.

The first half is set in the room of the title, where Ma (Brie Larson) cares for her son Jack (Jacob Tremblay), who has recently turned five. The room is the only universe Ma has known for seven years and the only universe Jack has ever known, as they are captives of the sexual predator who abducted Ma years before – a shadowy figure known as “Old Nick” (Sean Bridgers). (Incidentally, “Old Nick” is a common if archaic term for the Devil.)

Ma has tried to retain a semblance of normalcy for herself and especially for Jack. Theirs is a simple but loving existence, played in utterly convincing fashion by Larson (a career-best performance) and Tremblay (an astonishing one), with Jack providing the occasional narration as if telling a bedtime story.

When Ma and Jack gain their freedom, in one of the most suspenseful sequences of any film this year, Abrahamson smoothly shifts gears from thriller to drama without missing a beat, as Jack adjusts to a world he’s never known and Ma re-adjusts to a world that has changed since her captivity, including the divorce of her parents (Joan Allen and William H. Macy) in the anguished wake of her disappearance.

Danny Cohen’s fluid cinematography puts the viewer right in the room with Larson and Tremblay, then expands and explodes into brighter, almost overwhelming, territory once they’ve escaped.

A good portion of the film is shown through Jack’s perspective (including the aforementioned narration), yet the film never loses its hard-edged dramatic focus nor its intense emotional resonance.

Room is not an easy film, but it deftly eschews its potential exploitation trappings to be a rich and rewarding one, one that truly lingers in the memory long after it has ended.

Room opens Friday !