JANUARY 22, 2013
Kudos to Blockbuster for sending the version of The Roommate that I wanted and not the awful 2011 teen thriller. This one is a 2008 Japanese film that seems to have gone completely under the radar - hell with the lack of a remake like all of the others, no one even seems to know it exists at all. The IMDb page is as sparse as the entries for those batshit Hong Kong movies that Brian Quinn shows every now and then at the New Beverly, but those are pre-IMDb films! This is only from 2008 (2010 according to IMDb) and they don't even have the screenwriter or the full cast.
They also don't have any reviews at all, including "user reviews" which usually amount to complete gibberish when they're not plants by the film's creators or producers. I'm not sure why; it was released by Cinema Epoch, whose far from the most obscure distributor I've encountered, and while it's obviously a low budget production, it doesn't look any worse than the Ju-On films, which it often resembles. And it's not even listed on Amazon, so how the hell did I even find it?
Anyway, it's not too bad, though you need to take its big revelation with a big ol' grain of salt since I'm pretty sure it doesn't hold up to scrutiny, but for what it's worth it works well, and the movie as a whole isn't impenetrable as some of the others in the genre. A Tale Of Two Sisters, for example - I literally couldn't even figure out what to write about that one, but I'm pretty sure I got everything here. Then again, it's also a pretty minimalist movie - two leads, three or four supporting characters, and pretty much just one location are all we get over its scant 72 minute runtime. They don't give you time to be confused!
The plot is also pretty low-key; basically these two ladies live together and apparently have a romantic relationship, but one of them keeps seeing a typical looking J-horror ghost in the corners and hallways when the other is out (they have different work schedules, so it seems one of them is always home alone). Also, that supporting cast keeps disappearing or turning up dead, so our job is to figure out if the one seeing the ghost is crazy and killing everyone herself, or if it's the roommate doing it. 15 minutes shorter and it would just be an anthology series episode, and indeed they probably could have made a few trims and done that.
Especially when the beginning of the movie shows the end, a "tradition" I'll never completely understand. While some movies pull this sort of thing off beautifully, most just kill some of the suspense and are seemingly just padding things out a bit. In this case, it's not TOO bad in either department, since the "flash forward" is only about a minute and the context is obscured, but we still know that one character will still be alive at that point, when the bulk of the movie's scares involve her being terrorized. I mean yeah, if it's Mission Impossible III we know Tom Cruise isn't going to die so who cares if they show that part right at the top, but this would be like showing one of his expendable teammates alive at the end before going back and showing a bunch of action scenes where their life was in danger. Doesn't quite jive.
Luckily, the two women are interesting enough to make up for the slight lack of genuine horror (at least until its final 15 minutes, when shit hits the fan). It's rare to see this sort of relationship in ANY horror film, and having just watched a rather lousy one, this was something of a relief. Both actresses are quite good, and even though the one that sees the ghost has to spend a lot of the movie in hysterics, she never gets annoying. Likewise, the other one has to be a bit cold and even something of a "bitch" at times, but remains someone to root for (perhaps knowing the outcome helped a bit here, now that I think about it). In either case it could have been a disaster, leaving the audience not caring about either of them (or worse, wishing they were dead), but they pull it off. I find sympathizing with the characters in a lot of J-horror films to be a pretty big hurdle, since the movies are often so convoluted that it's hard to get a firm grasp on their protagonists, so it's nice to see one buck the trend.
The DVD has some trailers and a pretty useless making of that amounts to 20 minutes of people hanging out on set and making idle chit chat with one another. It's also set to some dreadful synth music, so it's best to just skip it unless you're in love with one of the performers and want to spend a little more time with them, since the movie is so short. It's also not anamorphic, a problem made worse by the fact that the subtitles dip below the frame, so if you zoom in you'd be cutting them in half. For a disc from 1999, fine, but come on! They don't even sell regular TVs anymore - there is no excuse in the world for a 4x3 transfer. In short - the movie's good but the disc itself is not; hopefully they'll put it on Netflix Instant or something someday.
What say you?