Room 203  Review: A Gripping Tale that Ebbs and Flows between being a Teenage Drama and a Thrilling Horror Movie
How many times have we watched a film where the setting of the story – a house or a room or an apartment building – is swarming with curses, secrets, and demonic rituals? If you are familiar with the most famous hauntings in American movies, you are sure have to be saturated with these stories. Room 203, adapted from the titular Japanese novel and directed by Ben Jagger, falls in the same category. However, it chooses to become part of coming-of-age teenage drama and part thriller under the garb of spirits and paganic rituals. This kind of genre-bending works in its favour. Room 203 becomes an interesting exercise, thereafter, in leaving you feeling just sufficiently satisfied with jump scares and atmospheric horror during its 1 hour 44 minutes runtime.
Kim White, played by Francesca Xuereb, and Izzy Davis, played by Viktoria Kinyaraska, are childhood best friends and now roommates as they move into a two-bedroom apartment. Kim is pursuing Journalism with a minor in Psychology at college, while Izzy is trying to score a call back from a casting couch. While Kim is the more disciplined roommate, Izzy is perpetually drinking and struggling to cope with the loss of her mother. While it becomes a story of how their friendship is tested, the supernatural element complicates the plot.
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There is a hole in the wall in Kim’s room that mysteriously belches out a shining silver pendant when Izzy puts her hand inside and starts to make the room stench. A curious Kim is pushed by her new friend in college, Ian, played by Eric Wiegand, to explore the history of the apartment. Soon, we are webbed into a compelling story around finding the perpetrator of the strange occurring around the two women. Do the two women realize that their strengths lie in tearing themselves away from the past by the end of the movie? Screenplay writers – John Poliquin, Jagger, and Nick Richey – do an almost convincing job at assimilating the loose ends of the story together without tying them up neatly. However, some logical questions loom in the air and threaten to disrupt the fine balance between fiction concocted from thin air and an actual rational horror story.
I must give this film brownie points for the beautiful apartment that contributes to half the horror in this film as it should have since the titular novel promised us a spooky setting for the protagonist. Their drawing room has a window painted like a glass mural, and no bright lights feature in the rooms. It is a tiny apartment but looks so old and exhausted from the layers of renovation it has undergone that it successfully convinces you of its promised American-gothic vibe. Even during the most sunlit hours, the color palette in the movie wears a cold grey cardigan. This helps highlight the few amber-colored light sources around the flustered characters, but it dips the nightly scenes into so much darkness that you fail to comprehend the characters’ actions from time to time.
I also really liked the idea of a hybrid education system that Kim is a part of. The change has been fostered around the world due to the raging pandemic, and it is good to see it being accommodated into pop-cultural memory. In the part where Kim and Ian start digging into the history of the apartment and connect dots to spot the criminal behind the disappearances in Room 203, the movie starts feeling like a whodunit.
The theme of female camaraderie, a popular trend in recent horror films, comes to the surface again. However, the movie also forgets from time to time that it set out to be a horror film by investing too much time into developing the relationships around the characters. The actors almost prove themselves to be good fits for the role but are simply not convincing enough in their expressions of fear of the supernatural.
The horror, inevitably, comes from jump scares in this film. However, to my sweet amazement, these jump scares do not flood the scenes, sometimes becoming a low blow when you knew in your heart of hearts that it is meant to be an element of horror in the narrative.
I also appreciate them not literally bringing forth a ghost in front of us. The chopped hand of a dead body that features only in the end (it is NOT a spoiler) leaves us playing guesses about the nature of the spirit. However, the editing of the film towards the end is clumsy, showing signs of impatience, significantly affecting the effect upon the audience as they are about to walk out of the film.
Room 203 is forgetful but remarkably significant because of the efforts it takes to become an engaging thriller-horror drama.