The Roommate

It’s Single White Female: The College Years. The filmmakers trimmed a few years off the cast and, just to be safe, also trimmed away characterization, motivation, logic... Sara (Minka Kelly) is the small-town girl off to college in the urban nightmare that is Los Angeles, ready to study style and take the fashion world by storm. She hasn’t even been at college a day and she’s met a new friend in her dorm named Tracy (Aly Michalka), and a potential boyfriend (Cam Gigandet) from one of the local fraternities. She also gets her first roommate, Rebecca (Leighton Meester), a quiet artist who’s all set to be best friends. They shop together, attend art exhibitions together, and even adopt a homeless kitten (which gets hung with the awful-cutesy name of Cuddles).

Anyway, if you’ve seen a single trailer for this film, or even just glanced at the front of the DVD case, you know things with Rebecca aren’t going to stay this cheerful forever. In fact, soon Rebecca is demanding more and more of Sara’s time and exacting vengeance on people who’ve wronged her new bestest friend. Tracy is attacked after abandoning Sara one night. The inspirational professor (Billy Zane) who makes a pass at her gets set up and beat down. And you can probably guess what happens to Cuddles.

Which is where The Roommate starts to fall apart. If I wanted to be especially harsh, I could say it fell apart in a series of development meetings, but let’s be nice and say it held together for 20 minutes or so. It’s just impossible to believe Rebecca is doing the things she’s doing and keeping it secret. We’re not even half an hour in when she terrorizes Tracy in a darkened bathroom, batters her to the floor, and then rips out her belly-button ring. Tracy’s response is to move out of the dorm without so much as a single word of warning to Sara. She doesn’t even report the attack to anyone. Brutally attacked and mutilated, and she just slinks away out of the story.

Granted, Alfred Hitchcock told us suspense is when the audience knows there’s a bomb under the table and the characters don’t. But if the bomb has a bright red flasher, ticks louder than Big Ben, and the characters still don’t know about it, that isn’t suspense. It just means they’re idiots. There are so many warning signs that Rebecca is unstable, it’s tough to have any sympathy for Sara by the time she finally catches up with the audience. If anything, I was kind of hoping it’d be one of those movies where the psycho kills everyone and gets away.

To be honest, everything that isn’t a basic horror-story beat gets lost here. The fun of college vanishes with Tracy. The romance between Sara and Stephen (Gigandet) shows some promise but gets glossed over. The unexpected advances of her professor are given the same ominous weight as Rebecca throwing Cuddles in a clothes dryer. The Roommate isn’t so much tone deaf as just plain monotone. There’s no subtlety, no moments of comedy, nothing to make the scary bits stand out. It’s all just kind of flat. Yep, this is one of those DVDs where the special features get a higher rating than the film itself. There’s a pile of previews on this disc if you’re into that sort of thing. Even if you’re not, it’s just nice to see a studio giving you as much bang for your buck as possible.

The commentary track starts off as a mini-filmography from director Christian E. Christiansen before launching into a discussion of this movie. On one hand, it’s good to hear him talk about some of the harsh, blunt realities of shooting a studio film and how some story points can be dismissed as “movie logic.” On the other hand, he seems far more interested in clever shots and light sources than telling a story. As he talks about scenes that he overshot or bits he and the cast added (like the above-mentioned bathroom attack), it does leave you wondering what state the original script was in before everyone started tampering. And if it needed so much work, why did they start filming it? Christiansen also offers several ideas about what’s right or wrong for “this kind of movie” that help explain many of the tonal issues.

There’s also a collection of alternate and cut scenes, and in all honesty, most of them are great examples of things that should be cut. There is, however, a bunch of extra material that extends a sequence between Rebecca and Sara’s friend and quasi-mentor Irene (Danneel Harris), and also carries it into the morning after (wink wink, nudge nudge). It’s not bad, and it does raise some questions about the real nature of Rebecca’s interest in Sara. Taken with the revelation that she had a crush on another girl in high school and that her parents were always forcing her to act “a certain way,” it does make me wonder if in the script Rebecca was a closet lesbian who snapped after a bunch of psycho-conditioning. Then again, maybe that’s just me trying to be generous. What’s odd isn’t that most of this mini-arc is cut, but enough of remains to be a bit confusing and completely unnecessary.

Which is probably the best way to sum up this film as a whole.