This is a beautiful film, filled with moments of despair, joy, and connection that occur not only between a mother and child, but between older parents and their grown up girl. As in the headlines, Brie Larson plays a woman who has been abducted as a teen and secreted away in the specially constructed back shed/room of her abductor’s suburban Ohio home. He visits regularly to rape her, an encounter she must endure without resistance because she has fathered his child, a little boy (Jacob Tremblay) who must stay hidden in the closet during these visits. When he leaves, she does her level best to raise the boy, who knows nothing of the world around him, a fact she must remedy when she concocts a plan for escape. When the boy is introduced to the world, it plays like a bird pushed out of the nest. You are utterly terrified for him. When he and his mother are back in her childhood home with her grandmother (Joan Allen), your fear becomes concern, at his acclimation and the mental health of his mother, who now has to tend to her long suppressed issues.
This is a film about connection, the rigor of parenthood, and the limits of love and blood. Larson’s determination, Tremblay’s resistance, Allen’s long-suffering courage, all feel immediate and real. There isn’t a hint of melodrama, which is rare thing given its true crime genesis. Larson is mesmerizing, the perfect balance of drive and fragility, and Tremblay delivers one of the most moving child performances I’ve ever seen. William Macy has a small role as Larson’s father, who has divorced Allen and who, in a painfully poignant scene, cannot bring himself to look at the boy, for all he sees if the product of his daughter’s tormentor. It missteps only once – Larson gives an interview to a journalist whose questions are so tasteless that it feels false – but even in this error, the filmmakers show Larson as flawed (you can see in her eyes that she knows she screwed up in agreeing to the exclusive) when in lesser hands we would have seen her resolute, rising against the opportunist reporter in righteous indignation. One of the best of the year, and the failure of the academy to nominate Tremblay as supporting actor continues the real prejudice of those old fogies at Oscars, against the young.