As good as you’ve heard, or just another overrated indie?
By: Jimbo X
Every now and then, you encounter a movie that gets absolutely everything right in its first half, only to crash and burn in the last 45 minutes.
Add 2015’s Room to the list of flicks that start off spectacular, only to derail at the midway point.
The first 50 minutes or so of Room – a rare Canadian/Ireland co-production directed by a dude whose last movie was about the misadventures of a crappy indie rock band whose lead singer has a papier-mache head – aren’t just good, they are downright superb. If the film had kept up that tense, claustrophobic atmosphere for a full hour and a half, it would undeniably be one of last year’s best movies. Alas, as soon as that harrowing suspense and dreadful isolation dissipates, the movie loses all semblance of direction, with its protagonists just kind of stumbling around for about an hour while the supporting cast cautiously floats around them like personality-less horse flies.
The premise is simple. Brie Larson – yes, Envy Adams from Scott Pilgrim – plays a 24-year-old woman who has been locked inside a tool shed for seven years. She is stuck in the building, day and night, with her five-year-old son, who is the product of savage rapings at the hands of their captor. Brie, however, goes out of her way to convince her son that everything is A-OK. She lets him watch Dora the Explorer and she reads him bedtime stories and helps him make “snakes” out of broken eggs and she gives him pieces of her rotten teeth to play with and she makes him wait in a closet while she receives her regularly scheduled sexual assaults each evening. But now that her kid is elementary school-aged, she decides it is time to fly the coop, so she concocts a scheme to get ‘em both out of there (warning: it involves a surprisingly high quotient of self-induced vomiting.)
Now this part is fantastic. I never, EVER get tense watching movies, but when that little kid was rolled up in a carpet in the back of a truck trying to remember his mama’s advice on how to find the police, my heart was pounding like a jackhammer. Indeed, that really should have been the whole movie – Brie and her kid experience unfathomable abuse, try out various ruses to escape, and the last 20 minutes, they find freedom. There is a downright incredible scene where Brie, freed from her cell after seven years exiled from reality, runs crying out of the shed in slow-motion towards a squad car with her kid in the backseat. Had it been the final shot of the movie, it would’ve been absolutely perfect.
The problem is, the movie keeps going for another hour.
So now that Brie and her kid are free, they have to adjust back to the real world. Brie’s parents find her at the hospital and they have no idea how to react because they just kind of figured she had been dead since George W. Bush was in office. So she reconnects with them – they divorced a long time ago, though – and Brie tries to explain to her kid what hospitals and doctors and dogs and all that kind of stuff is. Then they go back to her old bedroom – which still has Radiohead posters all over it – and they look at old yearbook photos, but interestingly, they never reach out to any of the people Brie hasn’t seen or heard from in seven years.
So she and the kid go live with her mom and their step-daddy, but the media is all abuzz about the case and they are staking the house out and because her parents got divorced this breeds a lot of contention and eventually Brie and her mama have a big fight about how if she didn’t raise her to treat everybody so nice she wouldn’t have been abducted in the first place and she decides to do an interview with a tabloid TV news crew and it goes awry and she starts thinking she is an unfit mother so she tries to kill herself but she survives and spends some time at a mental institution while her kid plays with the family dog and the kid next door and bonds with his grandparents and then she finally gets released and they hug and they all realize that maybe, just maybe, they have some semblance of a normal life ahead of them now.
Then, it’s over. Whew, talk about a film that sputtered out!
Yeah, I know the director was probably trying to make some sort of allegory about the world being little more than a slightly larger cage for the victims due to all that irreversible emotional and physical abuse they suffered, but the last hour was nonetheless a tremendous letdown. After being held prisoner for seven years, you would think Brie and her kid would be totally desocialized wrecks, but no, they adjust to life on “the outside” way better than most returning Army veterans do (and making things weirder, neither Brie nor the kid seem to have any lingering PTSD side effects.)
Since the film is at least partially seen through the eyes of the kid, I guess I can understand why the producers wanted to “downplay” the general horribleness of the premise. That said, it would have been all the more involving had the film really played up the heinous nature of the captivity and the especially barbaric treatment Brie received at the hands of “Old Nick” – a vile antagonist who, wisely, is never played like some sort of one-dimensional, slobbering, feminazi caricature of the great unwashed sexual predator as is the case in oh so many films of the like. As an aside, holy shit, does the actor who plays the rapist in this movie look just like this one guy I went to high school with, right down to his crappy, beat up red pick-up. The only thing that’s missing is an Evil Ernie patch on his stained denim jacket and the two would be veritable doppelgangers.
This being a dramatization – although it is not based on any real life incidents, it certainly feels inspired by incidents such as the unfathomable case of Austrian Elisabeth Fritzl, who was held captive for 24 years and bore seven children over two dozen years of nonstop rapings from her own father – you’ve got to suspend your disbelief quite a bit. Like, the part where the kid is carried out by his daddy in a rolled up carpet. I don’t know, it just seems to me that if a dude is going to rape an innocent person for seven years, he probably wouldn’t have any qualms about leaving the corpse of a kindergartner to just rot in the backyard. And as soon as the kid broke free, we all know the captor probably would’ve gone back to the tool shed and murdered Brie and probably burned the place down to hide the evidence, but no, he just hops back in his truck, promptly drives off and he’s never heard from again. I mean, there’s a quick scene where they say he is arrested on TV and they’re worried about the kid having to be a witness in the trial, but after that, he’s completely out of the picture.
Yeah, I get what they were aiming for, metaphorically – after so many years of isolation and abuse, they will never be “free” as individuals – but the film never really gives the viewers a sense of closure. The kid asks his mom if they can go back and see the shed one more time, and the police lets them root around in it after all the evidence has been collected, and you kind of get the idea that the kid will be all right in the long haul, but it is still a rather unsatisfying ending (on top of a rather unsatisfying third act, to boot.)
The acting is very solid, although – despite the Academy’s proclamations - I wouldn’t call Brie’s performance Best Actress-caliber. Also, that little kid’s ebullience in the face of so much terror really throws you for a loop – yes, I know they did that intentionally to demonstrate his isolation-borne naivety, but come on, at least show us a little bit of mortal fear here and there. Meanwhile, the rest of the cast – William H. Macy, her mom, whoever the step-dad guy is – are completely unremarkable. I mean completely.
So, what do you get with Room? Well, you get a tremendous half a movie, and then, it gets all shades of Lifetime original movie. As a whole, it’s certainly an enjoyable film, but considering what it could’ve been – an all-time psychodrama classic – instead of what it ultimately turned into, you can’t help but feel just a little cheated once the movie is over and done with. Yeah, it’s still a good movie and all, but as good as those egghead, know-it-all “critics” in En-Why-See and El-Lay say it is?
Not even close, I am afraid.
Two and a Half Tofu Dogs out of Four