“The Roommate” seems like a modern take on the 1992 film “Single White Female,” in which a single, white female puts out an ad in the newspaper for a new roommate — her only request being that the person to become her new roommate be another single, white female. She doesn’t think to specify that she doesn’t want anyone crazy — or harboring homicidal tendencies — and this oversight really comes back to bite her.
At Quality 16 and Rave
By 2011, it looks like the single, white females of 1992 have settled down, gotten married and are preparing to send their ridiculously attractive progeny off to expensive universities. Enter: “The Roommate,” starring Minka Kelly (TV’s “Friday Night Lights”) and Leighton Meester (TV’s “Gossip Girl”) as her newest, most obsessive friend.
The most significant difference between this film and its predecessor is expressed in the rating each received. “Single White Female” was rated R, and was clearly marketed as a horror flick for single, white females in their late twenties, with money. Because “The Roommate” is only rated PG-13, it promises not to be as scary or violent, but it does a good job of being creepy enough to be satisfying.
That is, while viewers are not explicitly shown much murder or craziness until about an hour in, this story does a good job of building on its own weirdness until we’re genuinely uncomfortable. The point of this film is not to sit through it covering your eyes, waiting to crush the fingers of the person next to you when the next “gotcha” moment happens. The point is to leave the theater more disturbed than frightened.
While Kelly doesn’t do too impressive a job as an innocent fashion student, the story’s effectiveness hinges less on her performance than on Meester’s, who, surprisingly, plays a pretty convincing hot freshman psycho. Kelly generally plays her part serviceably, but Meester skillfully descends from quirkiness into overprotectiveness and, finally, a genuinely sinister psychotic mess.
Meester’s initial innocence sets her apart from the other vain, slutty girls Kelly hangs out with. So, when she first starts attacking the assholes in Kelly’s life, you’re almost rooting for her. And you keep rooting for her until you see what she does to Kelly’s adopted kitten, “Cuddles.” It’s around that point you realize just how sick Meester’s character is and what she’s capable of on her quest to insulate her roommate from everything outside of their relationship.
The only reason this otherwise promising movie isn’t better is its newcomer director, Christian E. Christiansen. Apparently he’s made movies in Denmark well enough for him to try an English-language film, but it sometimes feels like this movie has no director at all. Random shots are canted throughout the film as if Christiansen is paying homage to … someone else who wasn’t sure what canted shots were for. It’s like he’s saying, “I saw a horror film once,” but you seriously don’t believe him. Most importantly, there are about a dozen pointless, weird pans and dramatic zoom-ins that resemble home movies where it’s clear dad was just trying to see what all the buttons on the side of the camera were for.
In fairness, most movies that try to depict college kids and college situations have a hard time doing so without looking like they were directed by your mom. But, because of how good-looking this entire cast is — and how unsettling Meester’s performance becomes — we’re distracted enough from this movie’s poor directing to make it worth seeing.