Erix Antoine’s review published on Letterboxd:
A young woman and her son are held captive in a dingy shed... And that shed becomes their whole world. Then the kid turns five. And something happens...
And to reveal more would not spoil the "surprise," as this is not a thriller or some kind of genre piece predicated on fancy twists and reveals. But it is still one of those movies that sneaks up on you and reveals itself in layers. So it's best to go in cold - and be absorbed by the experience.
It's a powerful experience because of Lenny Abrahamson's careful, tasteful and sensitive direction. And also because of the two spectacular lead performances. Brie Larson portrays a traumatized individual who understands the key to survival is to hold on to her basic humanity. It is a performance overflowing with emotional intensity and raw vulnerability, and it is riveting. And then there is Jacob Tremblay as her son. This kid is one of those miraculous child actors who just walked out of his mother's womb with the natural inclination to be a movie star.
He manages to be adorable in an extremely relatable, human way that eschews any sense of standard Hollywood precociousness. And he is our window into the story. This is a key element. Because it is at the core of what the movie is attempting to do.
Although the central premise of the film stems from something horrible and harrowing, the film's ultimate achievement is cathartic...it means to instill hope in audiences - hope that even within our darkest corners and most desperate moments, we can find a beacon.
I suppose for some, this optimistic worldview will come off as naive. But I buy into it. Because the movie buys into it. So do its characters...and this sense of hope is not manufactured with traditional Hollywood schmaltz, it is earned. The tears the characters cry are real tears...because the people feel real. And so, the tears you shed while watching it are real as well.
It all comes back to that kid. He is our window into this story...a story about overcoming deep physical and psychological traumas through your own strength of spirit. But, because we see this story through the eyes of innocence, we come to see the world in that way too. And so, as this five-year-old comes to understand the reality of the world around him, you may find yourself tapping into whatever innocence you have left to look at your own life with fresh eyes.
Rare is the piece of entertainment that can actually push you to reexamine the way you view the world. This is that sort of experience. Embrace it.