Occasionally there comes a time in a movie when you realize that the filmmakers are just trying to have a little fun with you– trying to camp it up just enough so you don’t take the whole thing so seriously. There’s a moment like that in The Roommate, and once it arrived, I knew the movie (while masquerading as a pseudo-horror/thriller) is nothing but a goofy riff on a campy classic.
At least that’s what I hope. Otherwise, The Roommate is just plain silly.
The ‘campy classic’ in this case is 1992’s Single White Female, which starred Jennifer Jason Leigh as an obsessed, nutso (and, well… homicidal) apartment-mate of Bridget Fonda. On paper, The Roommate is nothing more than a remake of SWF for the Gossip Girl set– which seems a fitting description since The Roommate stars Leighton Meester… good ol’ Blair herself. Here, Meester is Rebecca, the obsessive, nutso (and, well… homicidal) dorm-mate of Sara (Minka Kelly).
The two girls are among the incoming class at the fictional University of Los Angeles. Sara’s from Iowa, Rebecca’s from Beverly Hills. Both are into art and fashsion (Of course… why wouldn’t they be?). Sara’s an aspiring designer. Rebecca’s an aspiring artist. When they meet, all seems sunny and bright, but it’s not too long before weirdness starts. Rebecca gets really protective of her artwork. Then she has a mini panic attack because Sara went out partying but didn’t check in. Then things step up a notch and she starts secretly going through Sara’s stuff. Before long, Rebecca’s behavior is off-the-charts whacko, all in the name of caring about her roommate. She sabotages Sara’s relationship with her ex, she assaults Sara’s party-hearty friend and threatens to kill her. You know– good ol’ fashioned, usual obsessive roommate stuff. Looks like we might have a pretty decent flick here.
And then we come to that ‘moment’. (I won’t give anything away, other than to say that it involves a death in a clothes dryer, and that it literally had more than half the theater shouting at the screen). It’s a moment so absurdly over-the-top that you can’t help but realize right then and there that the director (Christian E. Christiansen) and the screenwriter (Sonny Mallhi) are doing this whole thing with a wink and a grin. Yes, it’s a slighty-morbid wink, but it’s a wink nonetheless. And a grin.
From then on out, The Roommate spirals out of control just as much as Rebecca’s behavior does, but it’s all in good fun (again, we assume). The scares are a little hard to come by (it’s more of a suspenseful film than a edge-of-your seat action thriller), but it stays entertaining, especially as it reaches the violent and bloody last half-hour.
Meester and Kelly both offer what you would expect in terms of their performances. Kelly’s role is a little more thankless, as she has to play the straight part of unsuspecting victim (who, for my money, is a little slow to catch on), while Meester has much more to work with and actually pulls off a great ‘teenage pyschopath’.
Diretor Christiansen has quite a bit of fun with odd camera angles and artsy cinematoraphy, and he does a decent job of building the suspense. Mallhi’s script (though almost a word-for-word rip off of Single White Female) does have its moments, but by and large, it’s little more than standard teen-horror fare (the kind that the Scream movies so accurately skewer). At one point, for example, a young woman is taking a shower, when all of a sudden the lights go out. Instead of bee-lining for the light switch, she decides to tip toe slowly through the entire bathroom, trying to find the culprit. Um, okay.
The Roommate is destined for a future as nothing more than a Saturday afternoon guilty pleasure on Starz, and, honestly, I think that’s OK with everyone involved. It may not offer the punch or the relative staying power of Single White Female, but since the target audience of The Roommate was born the year SWF came out, maybe it’s a good a time as any for fresh blood. So to speak.