There are times when you watch a movie, realize it isn’t particularly good, and you determine that you should be thankful for what it does right. In the case of The Roommate, it at least doesn’t fall into exposition-laden dialogue; it leaves more things for the audience to infer than outright explaining them. In a horror movie, that’s somewhat of a rarity, so at the very least, I was happy that exposition was kept to a minimum.
The plot begins with sweet, innocent Sara Matthews (Minka Kelly) moving into her new college dorm. She bumps into a girl named Tracy (Aly Michalka), who tells her there’s a party at a fraternity house that night. Sara wants to wait for her roommate to show up, but she decides to go to the party anyway. She meets a drummer named Stephen (Cam Gigandet), gets drunk from punch that she didn’t know contained alcohol, and ends up almost puking in her room. In the morning, she truly meets her new roommate — she saw her the night before, but didn’t remember — named Rebecca (Leighton Meester).
They hit it off, because fighting with a roommate means you’re probably not going to stay with them long. Eventually, they’re having coffee together, exploring museums, and liking the same types of movies (in this case, Sara mentions her favorite film is The Devil Wears Prada, and the next day, Rebecca has a poster of it on her wall). Rebecca also seems willing to do anything to her friend, including telling Sara’s ex-boyfriend never to call again — without telling Sara that she’s done that.
It’s at this point when things begin going wrong, or at least, weird. We watch Rebecca slowly become obsessed with Sara, or more accurately, she starts showing that obsession more frequently and obviously. She calls Sara constantly, she puts on her special necklace, and even eventually gets a tattoo of something special to Sara. It’s incredibly creepy, although not exactly thrilling. You sit and watch these developments and you aren’t exactly pleased with what you’re seeing, but it’s not at all suspenseful or interesting.
I think there are a couple of reasons for this lack of tension. The first is how you know every single potential victim as soon as they appear. You see a character introduced, and you instantly wonder how Rebecca, the crazy one, is going to remove said character from the picture. No, this doesn’t automatically mean death, and I wouldn’t classify this as a slasher movie, but characters that were earlier shown will not necessarily be staying all that long.
The second reason is that there isn’t a hint of originality infused into this film, which I’ll blame largely on director Christian E. Christiansen (great name, by the way). His film falls into cliché after cliché, and has nothing to offer in terms of bringing something new to the table. Fans of Single White Female especially won’t see anything new here.
However, as I always look for things to praise, the plot develops organically and without a lot of effort these characters, all except for Rebecca, seem quite real, and they spend a lot of time just going about their college lives. Sara and her now-boyfriend Stephen go on a few dates, Sara visits her friend, Irene (Danneel Ackles), who is a fashion designer (Sara aspires to be one), and we watch Sara go to her design class, which she has to fight to even get into. We see everyone go to parties, adopt a kitten, and live out weeks of their college life.
Like I said at the beginning, exposition is not used a lot. The only real explaining that The Roommate has is to explain to us why Rebecca acts the way she does, even if the explanation given doesn’t make a lot of sense. (I’m going to spoil it here, so skip the rest of this paragraph if you don’t want it “ruined” for you.) She has a medication for Zyprex, which she’s stopped taking. Zyprex treats schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, although I don’t think it is approved for anything else. You infer that Rebecca must have been on this medication, but stopped taking it for whatever reason. It’s too bad that neither of those conditions makes a person act that way. Maybe it was a misdiagnosis, although how a practicing doctor gets it that wrong is beyond me.
Don’t go into this film expecting good performances, because you’ll be disappointed. If you’ve seen the trailer, you probably have a pretty good idea about how the acting is going to be. Minka Kelly always seems to have the same tone of voice and facial expression while Cam Gigandet is the generic nice boyfriend, despite squinting too much. The only good performance is from Leighton Meester, who is actually quite convincing as the psychotic roommate.
The Roommate is definitely a mixed bag, but since it didn’t rely on exposition, and also allowed the plot to develop organically, I didn’t have a bad time with it. Sure, it’s not thrilling, surprising, full of suspense, or containing good acting performances, but it’s a horror movie that doesn’t feel like it has to explain everything to you, and that’s got to count for something. Meester also gives a chilling and creepy performance, and in the end, it’s not a boring film — it’s just not a terribly original or scary one.