New in select theaters, On Demand, and digital download from Vertical Entertainment!
ROOM 203 (2022)
Directed by Ben Jagger.
Written by Ben Jagger, John Poliquin, Nick Richey, from the novel by Nanami Kamon.
Starring Francesca Xuereb, Viktoria Vinyarska, Eric Wiegand, Scott Gremillion, Rick LaCour, Quinn Nehr, Sam A Coleman, Timothy McKinney, Patrick Kirton, Susan Kirton, Terry J. Nelson, Jeroen Frank Kales, Cameron Inman, Bria Fleming, Reece Roark, Hannah May Roark, Clement Saoudi
Kim and Izzy (played by Francesca Xuereb and Viktoria Vinyarska, respectively) are moving into a brand new apartment together. Kim is starting journalism school while Izzy wants to celebrate and pursue an acting career. With two career paths like that, what could go wrong? A lot actually. There actually is a lot of bad blood between these two as Kim’s parents aren’t fond of Izzy and have basically disowned her, mainly because Izzy OD-ed on pills after her mother died because Kim wasn’t able to be with her in her time of need. So there’s drama. It doesn’t help that the two have moved into a haunted apartment together which has a hole in the wall that can’t be repaired, a creepy glass window depicting all sorts of death and destruction, and an even creepier landlord (Scott Gremillion). What are these two free-wheelin’ gals in the city to do?
ROOM 203 begins with promise. It basically tells the story we are about to see unfold with Kim and Izzy on fast forward with a young couple making out in the apartment. They find a weird necklace in the hole in the wall, she puts it on, and then immediately slits her own throat with a broken bottle. This was a decent way to begin. It was visceral, dynamic, yet didn’t really answer any questions other than something weird and supernatural was going on. If ROOM 203 had maintained that momentum for the rest of the film, I think they would have been on to something.
Unfortunately, things slow down dramatically once Kim and Izzy move in. This is a film that really wants us to care for the characters. So lots of time and energy are spent by the cast and filmmakers to flesh out who Kim and Izzy are. But this isn’t a teen drama series where we follow the ups and downs of a friendship. It’s a horror movie and while this movie tries to trick you into the lulls of drama, it fails because everyone knows it’s a horror movie. I get what they’re going for. Lots of time is spent on developing the friendship of these two girls, but not a lot of it is very interesting. Even the conflict between the girls could be fixed with one good sit down and chat, but instead, everything is done to build this conflict up into something enormous. The ridiculousness of it all is highlighted later when, of course, the conflict does occur and the two air their petty grievances to one another through tears and by throwing things in highly soap operatic fashion.
These actors are up to snuff though. Both Xuereb and Vinyarska are talented actresses and able to convey lots and lots of drama. They’re not your runway model types. They look like real people which make them much more relatable than the stars of most horror movies of this kind. The rest of the cast are ok, but don’t stand out. Eric Wiegand feels like he’s batting way out of his league with Kim as he plays Ian, a fellow journalism student. The two just don’t have chemistry and ultimately, he feels useless to the overall plot other than to remind Kim that she’s awesome and should use what she’s gleaned from a week’s worth of journalism school to solve this mystery. Scott Gremillion plays the creepy landlord with all the subtlety of a sledgehammer. He’s comically overacting here and while it would have been interesting if he were made to be a red herring, the writing isn’t deep enough to deliver on that.
There are a lot of potentially good moments in ROOM 203. There is creepy atmosphere of the antiquated apartment, the ominous hole, the creepy glass window. But it feels as if the horror in this movie was stacked ontop of each other as if one were ordering a sandwich at Subway rather than having horrors naturally grow from some kind of ominous source. There’s some kind of tie in with crows, an ancient demon, a sacrifice ritual, a killer necklace. It’s just everything piled on top of each other like some towering Dagwood sandwich that ruins one’s appetite rather than tantalizes the hunger if you look at it too closely.
ROOM 203 is capably put together and acted. Those are what it has going for it. But the scares turn out to be pretty generic, laughably so once it gets to the climax with a screaming madman brandishing a knife and about to perform a ritual. And this occurs in the basement, not the titular room itself. Earlier in the film, Izzy puts on the necklace from the opener, and you’re just waiting for her to grab the nearest sharp object and perform a self-tracheotomy, but that never happens. It’s missed cool opportunities, laughable developments, and downright cliched and remedial writing with little depth that ultimately makes ROOM 203 a destination worth avoiding.