Too Cruel for School

The Roommate is a frighteningly unoriginal tale of girl-on-girl stalking 

True story: The summer before my freshman year of college, I received a form letter that was supposed to contain the name, address and phone number of my future roommate. All I got, though, was a name and “address” (a post office box number in Pinehurst, N.C.)—apparently, my future roomie had no phone number or physical mailbox. I spent the last weeks of summer consumed by macabre visions of the backwoods hick with whom I would surely be stuck. Did she drink Moonshine? Would she teach me to skin a possum, or interrupt my sleep with banjo practice?

As it turned out, I had nothing to worry about—my roommate was a gorgeous jet-setting foreigner who used her grandparents’ U.S. address in her application—but the fear of the unknown can be powerful. It’s also the driving force behind The Roommate, a predictably dumb, mildly entertaining B-movie thriller that might as well be called Single White Female: The College Years.

Sara Matthews (Minka Kelly of Friday Night Lights, bright-eyed and bouncy-pony-tailed) is just a small-town girl from Des Moines, Iowa, trying to make it in the big city (Los Angeles), where she’s enrolled at the fictional ULA with dreams of becoming a fashion designer. She’s so naive that she downs cup after cup of punch at a frat party, not realizing it’s spiked even after she starts to get dizzy—which might explain her confounding obliviousness for much of the rest of the movie.

Sara is excited to become instant BFFs with her roommate, a mousy artist named Rebecca (Leighton Meester, abandoning her Gossip Girl barbs for creepy stares). Within moments of their meeting, Sara spills everything to Rebecca: She recently dumped her high-school boyfriend, Jason, after he ditched her to attend Brown, and she’s still traumatized over the death of her older sister, Emily, whose name she has tattooed on her clavicle. Rebecca is very understanding.

Rebecca becomes less understanding when Sara goes out to a club with her party-loving friend Tracy (Aly Michalka). After Tracy abandons Sara to go home with a guy, Rebecca keeps a frightening vigil outside Tracy’s room, finally attacking her and warning her to stay away from Sara on pain of death (she rips out her belly-button ring for good measure). It seems Rebecca has some psychological problems.

The plot steamrolls ahead in a series of unsurprising twists: Anyone who gets close to Sara becomes a threat to Rebecca, and she eliminates them accordingly. Not even a defenseless kitten is safe, but for some reason Rebecca leaves Sara’s new boyfriend (Cam Gigandet of Twilight, all dimples and deltoids) alone, save for a light round of library stalking. Despite the fact that all of her friends are either missing or totally terrified by her roommate, Sara senses nothing amiss. When, finally, Rebecca’s mother asks Sara, “Has she been taking her medication?” and Sara’s Bambi eyes crinkle with confusion, it’s all you can do not to start rooting for Rebecca. People that stupid deserve what’s coming to them.

Despite its utter predictability and unoriginality, The Roommate is fun to watch in a campy, so-bad-it’s-almost-good kind of a way. But there’s no real terror in Rebecca’s flimsy backstory, and Christian E. Christiansen (really, Mr. and Mrs. Christiansen? Really? You couldn’t think of anything else?) is no Barbet Schroeder; for more thrills and a nearly identical plot at a quarter of the cost, you might just as well rent Single White Female. And then change your locks.

The Roommate (R) ★★☆☆☆