Review of The Roommate

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A 2011 thriller film directed by Christian E. Christiansen and starring Minka Kelly, Leighton Meester, Daneel Harris, Matt Lanter, Nina Dobrev & Alyson Michalka. As a new student on campus, Sara (Minka Kelly) finds that her new roommate (lookalike Leighton Meester) has a strange obsession with her. When she begins to back away from their friendship, things turn violent.
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You never really know what other people are thinking, and The Roommate capitalizes on this fear by placing the main character, Sara Matthews (Minka Kelly), at the mercy of her fears and an external tormentor. As the young fashion-design coed moves into her dorm, the viewer slowly discovers that she may not be as paranoid as she seems. The movie teeters between college party film and suspense, often stumbling between stereotypical Animal-House-style antics and tactics more common in psychological thrillers.

As the plot progresses, the viewer finds out that Sara's roommate Rebecca (Leighton Meester) seems to have an unnatural obsession with Sara. Meester's creepy little sister vibe meshes well with the more lighthearted portrayal by Kelly as the two seem to have a fairly natural chemistry that enhances the strange nature of their characters' relationships. Rebecca's frantic late-night phone calls to locate Sara remind viewers more of a controlling lover than a roommate, and even their originally oblivious friends Tracy (Ali Michalka) and Stephen (Cam Gigandet) get involved as the suspense ratchets up.

Obvious pacing issues plague the film, though the plot itself seems to flow naturally when not suffering from the incongruous pairing of party film and suspense. Viewers are likely to find themselves gasping at what might otherwise be a humorous moment, or with the breath taken from them by an unexpected act of cruelty during a seemingly innocuous scene. The actors attempt to salvage slow moments with intense portrayals of emotion, but audiences are likely to remain unengaged until the climax.

The film's climax, revealing the true depths of Rebecca's madness, helps to overcome earlier pacing issues. As the violence erupts and Sara flees for her life, the viewer is brought fullface with the fears evidenced in the early part of the film. The slow buildup to the action serves to make these intense moments even more memorable, though they do so at the risk of making the first half of the movie relatively forgettable. Meester, Gigandet and Kelly all shine during this exciting portion of the film. Each actor brings his or her greatest talents to bear, showing a range of emotions unseen in many of the film's establishing scenes.

The movie's denouement comes as no surprise, and the final scene of the film may leave some viewers feeling that they have just been part of some bad pun instead of experiencing a cathartic release. Part of this is due to the fact that many viewers are simply likely to identify more with the maddened Rebecca than with the main character; Sara Matthews is simply not as well developed through the film as her tormentor is. In many ways, the film seems to be focused on the wrong character. Rebecca seems a more psychologically interesting character, and Meester's portrayal is downright endearing until the film's climax.

The direction by Christian E. Christiansen is executed very well, though the pacing issues and character development may have been more pronounced in the final editing stage. If Sara Matthews undergoes any great changes, they must have been left on the cutting-room floor. The film remains true to its premise throughout but may not fully satisfy fans of college party films or suspenseful thrillers because of its often unsuccessful attempt to blend both into a single work. Both camps are likely to wish that the film were more fun or serious, respectively.

The Roommate is likely to appeal to college students looking for a semiserious film or other young adults seeking something beyond the frat-party humor movies typically aimed at their age groups but is unlikely to find a widespread audience.