Directors of psycho thrillers have to be like First World War subalterns – unafraid to go over the top. If you’re going to exploit the genre’s trashy pleasures, then you need to pull out all the stops. Don’t hold back. Ramp-up the scares. Be febrile not tepid. Yet Christian E Christiansen, the man at the helm of The Roommate, is so timid that the biggest jolt his film can muster comes when the viewer’s head hits the back of the chair after nodding off.
It doesn’t help that we’ve seen The Roommate before. Back in 1992 it was called Single White Female and starred Jennifer Jason Leigh as the nutty flatmate making life hell for Bridget Fonda’s New York career woman. This time, the setting is a Los Angeles university dorm room and Leighton Meester is the unhinged roomie who becomes dangerously attached to Minka Kelly’s unsuspecting design student.
Kelly’s Sara comes from the Midwest, which as far as the filmmakers are concerned clearly makes her a bit of a rube. She has to be guileless for the plot to work, but anyone else in her shoes would run a mile from Meester’s clingy Rebecca.
The pair have barely said hello before Rebecca has chosen Sara as her BFF. A rich girl from Pasadena, she helpfully shows Sara the LA sights and offers her the pick of the designer clothes in her closet. But when Sara swiftly expands her social circle, Rebecca becomes scarily possessive.
This is bad news for anyone in Sara’s orbit, including ex-boyfriend Jason (Matt Lanter), cute new boyfriend Stephen (Cam Gigandet), fashion mentor Irene (Danneel Harris), party girl Tracy (Aly Michalka) and lecherous design professor Billy Zane. Why, even Cuddles the kitten had better start counting his nine lives.
With this cast of potential victims, you’d expect a good dose of mayhem to be in store, but Danish director Christiansen (a one-time Oscar nominee for best short film) racks up a disappointingly low body count. Indeed, notwithstanding the obligatory menace-in-the-shower scene, the film’s most lurid moments come when Zane’s smug prof comes out with another campy fashion maxim.
Early on, Rebecca reveals that her favourite painter is Richard Prince and takes Sara to see some of his celebrated “Nurse” paintings. Derived from pulp-novel covers, but given a creepy, fetishistic twist, Prince’s paintings are weirdly sensual and menacing. If only you could say the same about The Roommate.
On general release from 8th April.