There are basically two methods that films employ to scare people. The first is unfamiliarity, eliciting a reaction in people by showing them things that they can’t quite understand. These are the movies that feature ghosts and unstoppable killers. The second is verisimilitude, instilling the idea that the events in the film could happen to you. In theory, The Roommate should be employing the second method, the promotional materials selling people on the idea that any college student could end up with a crazy roommate. In practice, the film allows itself to get pretty silly.
Sara Matthews (Minka Kelly) is a freshman at the University of Los Angeles. Her new roommate Rebecca (Leighton Meester) seems determined to be her best friend. At first, Sara genuinely enjoys Rebecca’s attention, but it quickly a dark turn. Rebecca becomes overprotective of her new roommate, bringing harm to anyone or anything that might take her away.
The film shares more than a passing similarity to Single White Female. The difference is that this film doesn’t go nearly as far in trying to understand its antagonist. The film doesn’t make any attempt to explore Rebecca’s mental or emotional state, dismissing her behavior as the result of not taking medication. None of the characters get fleshed out much, but the flatness of the villain feels particularly egregious. The film doesn’t give the character any depth, turning her into an abstract monster of obsession. All hope of verisimilitude is lost at that point, since Rebecca stops being recognizable as something resembling anyone that you might meet in real life.
That problem carries on in the way the film plays out her threat. Rather than play up the psychological angle, they play her as a straightforward physical threat. They also make her out to be some kind of ninja, able to appear and disappear without making a sound. This is a result of trying to startle people instead of trying to genuinely scare them. There’s no real sense of suspense as the film grabs for the instant gratification of shock. It only serves to highlight just how shallow the film is. At every turn, whenever the film might run into something that could be potentially interesting, it instead does whatever’s easiest.
The film’s sole appeal is in the cast. Leighton Meester gets to play crazy, and she looks like she’s reveling in the opportunity. It would’ve been interesting where she would have gone if the character had more depth. Minka Kelly is appealing enough, but she has trouble making her determination felt. Her expressions tend to be too neutral, making it a challenge to feel for her plight. Cam Gigandet is magnetic in his own way, but the character is simply too boring to overcome. Aly Michalka gives the film some energy, but there isn’t nearly enough of her in the picture.
The Roommate just isn’t very interesting. It refuses to be interesting, its parts formed from worn out slasher film molds. The premise has been done before, and yet the film makes no real effort to improve on the original. In fact, it goes the other way, taking away whatever might have been interesting about Single White Female, which wasn’t even that good of a film to begin with. The film is too easily discarded, none of its scares memorable enough to be taken outside of the theater, all of its ideas remaining unexplored.