Not every horror film can have us on the edge of our seats, but there was a point in "The Roommate" where I actually lifted my armrest to support a better slouch. I think that was somewhere around the climax. The Hollywood debut of Danish director Christian E. Christiansen is a relentlessly uninteresting endeavor from a filmmaker with a name to match. At barely 90 minutes, it's an eternity of ineffectual clichés filmed through an ugly, charcoal-tinted lens.
I'm not going to sugar-coat it—"The Roommate" is irredeemably awful, and not just because character motivation is out the window from Jump Street, or because it couldn't scare a six year old, but because it isn't even fun. From the belabored exposition to the clumsy, unmemorable finale, first-time screenwriter Sonny Mallhi (credited executive producer of "Shutter" and "The Strangers") fails outright. He's either in the wrong line of work or trying to make a quick buck—I'm not sure which is worse, but neither paints a very flattering portrait.
As someone used to hearing two-sentence synopses before consulting his checkbook, Mallhi knows a good premise. It isn't as if "The Roommate" was predestined to fail; there might have been something interesting here had he or Christiansen taken a few risks. The adolescent-friendly PG-13 rating isn't even a suitable scapegoat, though it's indicative of both the movie's content and its intellect.
Last year, Aaron Sorkin and David Fincher made a PG-13 movie about college students that treated the constituent twenty-somethings like adults. The characters in their film had adult motives and relationships, and spoke above an eighth-grade level. Granted, "The Roommate" is a very different type of movie, but there's no reason its cast should be this inarticulate and oblivious. It's almost as if Mallhi underwrote everyone else in order to make his bi-polar antagonist seem further off her rocker.
Blind to her roommate's glaring personality disorder, Sara (Minka Kelly) might as well have swerved past a flashing neon sign of dysfunction. She and Rebecca (Leighton Meester) become close friends despite their many expressed incompatibilities, and things go from weird to worse when her other acquaintances come between them. Meanwhile, Sara's Muppet-faced suitor Stephen (Sam Gigandet) squints and smirks his way through every scene like a constipated Jack Nicholson. Needless to say: not terribly compelling characters.
"The Roommate" represents just about everything wrong with the way modern Hollywood approaches horror. Produced as lesser entertainment by lesser artists, the genre thrives on bilking admission from just few enough patrons to recoup substandard budgets. Unimaginative showbiz bean counters like Sonny Mallhi penning screenplays is a creative travesty, and wooden directors like Christian E. Christiansen are exponentially lowering our expectations for what these types of movies should provide. His first English-language film is devoid of suspense, nuance, or even an intentionally funny joke. He treats each beat with undue gravity, slathering his scenes with listless grays that'll make you long for a nice teal or cyan hue.
There may be less competent films to pick on than "The Roommate," but even those have at least a modicum of personality, which this lifeless pseudo-psychological thriller lacks. Released within a week of last winter's equally indistinguishable "Wolfman," its most frightening implication is that I might have a lifetime of early February horror films to avoid. If I haven't yet convinced you that "The Roommate" isn't worth your time, at least see it in a theater with opposable armrests. You may need to slouch.