Meester out-shines co-stars in ‘The Roommate’

By Herb Scribner

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Going into “The Roommate,” one would expect it to be a modern-day horror movie offering cheap thrills and an aching stomach from the buttery popcorn serving as a distraction from the film itself.

Instead, the film’s above-average acting and modeling of its villain provides an enjoyable experience for both college students and those who aspire to be one. Like any film, it has its faults, which mostly stem from comical situations that are supposed to be taken seriously and the film’s ending, but it succeeds in giving viewers something to consider after the credits roll.

The premise is simple enough: a good-looking, well-to-do girl, Sara Matthews, goes to college and has a psychotic roommate, Rebecca. Rebecca is more than a Frienderz (the social-networking website in the film) creeper and tries to destroy Sara, her college friends and Sara’s boy-toy, Stephen.

As Sara, Minka Kelly (from the TV version of “Friday Night Lights”) does well in providing the audience a relatable character. She’s new to college, she’s oblivious to things happening around her, and she’s normal, above all else. Her normality stands out above anything, especially with her uncontrollable roommate sitting a bed away.

Kelly’s opposite, Leighton Meester (of “Gossip Girl” fame), plays the insane roommate Rebecca. Meester’s performance outshines the rest of the cast as she flawlessly, and, in some ways, beautifully displays a crazed nut. Meester owns the crowd in the film with swift line delivery on two separate occasions (a shower scene and a gas station scene) which shows just how much of a boss her character is.

Another leading character is played by Cam Gigandet (of “Twilight” and television’s “The OC”), which shows quality casting by the filmmakers. Gigandet’s “bad-boy-yet-kindhearted” image works well for the character of Stephen, as this is exactly what the character is made out to be. Additionally, Gigandet holds the viewer’s eyes as he not only provides comic relief (with actual comedic lines), but also makes audiences wonder what he’ll do next.

Though the acting is one of the superb parts of the film, the movie’s true genius comes in the lack of a real motive for Rebecca. It isn’t some past obsession, jealousy, revenge or weird family history that drives her; Rebecca is legitimately crazy, and that’s it. This is an element commonly absent from recent horror movies, as there is almost always a motive for characters’ insanity present in contemporary horror flicks.

The film sends us into the heart of Rebecca’s psyche, which is that of a maddening woman bent on wrecking havoc. She’s a straight up insane human being, and that strikes hard at any viewer of the film. It’s one of the memories viewers will likely hold onto after the film, as it is chilling to think that all of the film’s terror is the result of one unstable person.

Rebecca’s cracked antics are somewhat limited because of the PG-13 rating, but the film offers fine alternatives to work around the rating and still drives home some effective plot points. Whether it’s murder, self-gratification, animal cruelty or belly button ring detachment, the film delivers clever substitutions for scenes that could, if shown bluntly, easily pushed the movie to an R rating.

The way audiences will discover Rebecca’s craziness is the film’s demise however. It’s almost a throwaway line coupled with a hysterical delivery by Rebecca’s mother. While the delivery is laughable, detracting from the importance the scene is meant to hold, the message stabs at the audience and squarely confirms Rebecca’s insanity.

Other lesser elements include Billy Zane (who starred in “Titanic” with Frances Fisher, who plays Rebecca’s mother). Zane’s character feels out of place, and is almost overkill for the overarching direction of showing how insane Rebecca is.

The ultimate fault of the film is that the writers ask the viewer to care about Sara when she isn’t even a true main character. Even as the title suggests, this is Rebecca’s tale more than it is Sara’s, as the latter serves as merely a pawn in the endgame of Rebecca’s storied history. The writers portray her as a psycho who not only wants to become her roommate, but ultimately wants to murder her, which offers a twisted question about whether or not she’s indirectly trying to kill herself. She isn’t scripted to be loved or to be the main star of the film, but she comes off that way superbly. Viewers want to see what she’ll do next; they want to see what senseless move she’ll pull out of her pocket.

However, this does offer the viewer something other movies haven’t. The sympathy for Rebecca falls in line with recent issues with bullying and havoc amongst the young. Rebecca is a tortured soul looking for a release or some sort of escape from reality. Her motives in the film show it’s not always the victims who are tormented, but that those who torment suffer most.

Herb Scribner can be reached at [email protected]