(Is the tag line really “A woman’s unpainted face is scary!”? I get where they’re coming from but, hmmm – problematic)
Adapted from the 1997 novel by Aya Imamura, you’d be forgiven be forgiven for thinking that Roommate is something of a rehash of seminal ’90s “my roommate is a psycho” drama Single White Female though it goes a couple of steps further in the influences stakes and throws in Fatal Attraction and The Three Faces of Eve for good measure. Honestly anything else is a spoiler (though anyone who’s ever watched a film of this nature before is going to guess 70% of the plot about ten minutes in) but sit back and get ready to enjoy a very silly (though not really silly enough) tale of violence and psychological intrigue!
The film starts with the police arriving at the scene of a violent crime where a severely injured man and woman are being taken to hospital leaving another man dead inside. Cut to three months earlier and Harumi (Keiko Kitagawa) – the woman from the crime scene, has been injured in a car accident and wakes up in a hospital dormitory. Shortly thereafter she’s visited by the man who was driving the car, Keisuke (Kengo Kora), along with his insurance broker friend who’s very keen to sort out the paperwork for the compensation etc. Whilst recuperating Harumi builds up friendship with one of the nurses, Reiko (Kyoko Fukada), and when it comes time for Harumi to be discharged the two decide to become roommates! It’s all amazing at first but cracks begin to appear as Reiko’s behaviour becomes increasingly strange and Harumi starts getting closer to Keisuke. Then Harumi starts seeing a woman who looks really like Reiko, but is not actually Reiko, hanging around and things just start to get even more bizarre from then on.
Yes, you’ve seen all of this before. Not just in Single White Female and every other identity theft stalker drama since but even the various twists and turns feel lifted from other, more successful, movies. There’s even an incident with a pet that’s kind of like the one in Single White Female but it’s been given a Fatal Attraction style twist to make it less obvious. At this point, when your roommate’s behaviour has become this dangerous, a normal person would actually do something about it, wouldn’t they? Not in the land of the movies though! Revelation after revelation and about an hour of psychobabble later it’s all explained (sort of, as long as you don’t really think about it) but the last twist and the subplot with Tomorowo Taguchi’s sleazy mayoral candidate seem a little superfluous.
Mostly the film has a disappointingly televisual feeling and though there are a fair few interesting techniques in play such as the use of split screens, this feels both too on the nose and underdeveloped to have much of an impact. Performances are also on the weaker side though this may rest partly on the lack of depth in the fairly schlocky script – Kengo Kora isn’t left much to do other than being generally ‘nice’ and though the bond between the two women is well brought out, neither of them really gets to let loose with the intense extremes of their characters. The problem, really, is that Roommate walks a fine line between camp horror movie and serious psychological thriller, which just makes it a little bit dull. It never manages to build up much of an atmosphere of fear and its unwillingness to play with ambiguity makes it that much less engaging. Had it gone further down the schlocky, campy, melodrama route, Roommate might have proved more fun but this light on gore heavy on drama approach makes it only mildly diverting.
It’s about as tame and mainstream as they come, but Roommate isn’t exactly a bad film, just not a very interesting one. Not crazy enough for the midnight crowd nor smart enough lovers of cerebral thrillers, it ultimately falls between two stools. With such a high profile cast you might have expected something a little more powerful but Roommate is the classically OK, yet totally inconsequential film that’s fine for occupying a couple of hours but little more.