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The Roommate

The Roommate, directed by Christian E. Christiansen, is ostensibly a remake of the 1992 film Single White Female, a trashily effective thriller about a woman who gradually awakes to the realization that her Stepford roommate is a actually homicidal stalker. The Roommate's twist on the concept is to shift the setting from Manhattan and the world of 20-something yuppies to a freshman dorm at the University of Los Angeles, a fictional school whose enrollment is apparently limited strictly to models and other members of the genetic aristocracy. (Seriously, they couldn't have thrown in a few nebbish tutors or tubby teacher's assistants?)

It's not a half-bad idea, truth be told. Dorms, after all, are places where emotionally undeveloped young adults are herded together and forced to live on very intimate terms with people they've never met, where personality defects are exacerbated by chronic sleep deprivation and diets heavy on caffeine, alcohol, and junk food. This, unfortunately, is the only wrinkle of inspiration to be found in The Roommate's otherwise rote succession of stalker-flick clichés, assembled in a hasty bid to capitalize on the cresting popularity of its attractive young stars.

Former Friday Night Lights star and current Jeter conquest Minka Kelly plays Sara, a perky aspiring fashion designer whose only discernable flaw is a fatal blindness to the warning signs of psycho-bitch disorder, a plethora of which are exhibited by her dormmate, Rebecca (Gossip Girl and Country Strong star Leighton Meester), a friendly but temperamental art student pursuing a double major in Applied Batshitry.

Sara adjusts to college life well, making friends, excelling at schoolwork, and even finding a boyfriend, an eighth-year senior named Stephen (Twilight alum Cam Gigandet, looking every bit the 28-year-old). All of which proves vexing to Rebecca, whose interests appear restricted to 1) Sara, and 2) staring menacingly at anyone who gets near Sara.

As Sara's social life thrives, Rebecca's jealousy and infatuation deepen, and her behavior becomes increasingly disturbed. What begins with simple passive aggressiveness eventually escalates to include self-mutilation, threats of violence, actual violence, spontaneous lesbianism (but not with Sara, sadly), implied kitten torture, and, finally, murder.

How director Christiansen manages to cycle through all of these titillating elements, without producing any actual titillation, is something of an accomplishment. He's held back a bit by the film's strict PG-13 sensibility, which requires us more or less to imagine the blood that Rebecca spills, but he also plays things much too straight. A film like The Roommate needs a healthy dose of wry humor to make the craziness palatable, to acknowledge that yes, this is pretty freaking far-fetched. Part of the appeal of Single White Female was that it knew that it was cheap and tawdry and ridiculous; The Roommate, unfortunately, is not quite so self-aware. No film featuring a beret-clad Billy Zane as a college professor should ever take itself so seriously. rated this film 2 stars.