I found nothing to like in “Room,” a misandrist allegory that redefines fatherhood in a manner that makes it possible to eliminate all biological ties of a child to his male parent. The justification behind this lies within a tale of a psycho who kidnaps a girl and uses her as a sex slave for seven years, impregnating her with son in her first year of bondage. Logically, her denial of his rights to fatherhood has a solid basis, but Emma Donoghue, who wrote the screenplay from her own novel, has little interest in the plot and character dynamics of her tale. Her aim is to create a situation in which a woman can justifiably claim to be a child’s sole parent, regardless of biological ties to another person. Hers is not simply a denial to grace a rapist with parental rights. Such a position would be entirely rational and justified. But Donoghue’s fantasy goes much farther than that. She wants to cut the boy off from the whole world, believing a mother’s love is sufficient for all the provisions required for a child to live a fulfilled life. His first seven years are lived alone with his mom in a single room, while ugly episodes of sexual domination are played out in another room into which the child is forbidden to enter.
It isn’t merely this premise that makes director Lenny Abrahamson’s film such a cold experience. The problems begin with the cast and how they are directed. Brie Larson, veteran of children’s television and mumblecore features, is a dead cipher as Ma. Her performance is a series of red flags warning the audience of her amateurism, from the habit of putting question marks at the ends of sentences that have none, to the tendency to put all her feeling into the word “so” rather than into the sense and meaning of the statement. If the line is “I love him so much,” that love will be emphasized by a passionate, elongated “so” rather than in any feeling or expression conveying love.
Joan Allen, as her mother, proves that a tight mouth and a bad personality is not enough to express a tortured soul. She stands around in doorways like a character from an Ingmar Bergman film, using what is left of her emotive memory to work up some suffering poses. She has some technical skill in economically shifting such poses with as little as a twitch, but there is no commitment to the character. then we have Jason Tremblay, another annoying child performer from television land, as little Jack. I found it impossible to decipher the meaning behind all his squirminess, but can say that he was not at all pleasant to watch.
Emma Donoghue’s screenplay plays like it has been butchered by a screenwriting group that believes weird little truisms such as “If you cut every third line of dialog, your script will be improved.” Well, it sure seems like something like that must have been inflicted upon it, because the audience is repeatedly left to spin the Wheel of Fortune in order to get the vowels and consonants necessary to make coherent phrases from the scattered letters of the script. Or maybe Donoghue is simply being lean, revealing only the bits of plot information that she deems essential, as she plays with childish argot such as referring to the room as “room” and the child’s hair as “my strong” rather than “my strength.” Cute, huh?
But the whole thing is a fraud, the kind of nervy soap opera that used to be popular with housewives on the Lifetime Channel. I found it amateurish, dull, and emotionally cold, as well as having its fair share of puzzling episodes. Like the time mother and son spent in a penthouse hospital suite, laying around eating pancakes and fruit while deciding if they were psychologically ready to join the general population after having escaped the seven-year ordeal with their captor. The actors often seemed to be playing out scenes that just randomly floated in through an open window. Man, is this movie ever a head case. I wonder what it is that its admirers are relating to here.