Salem Horror Fest 2020 Review: Roommate Wanted ★★1/2

Horror-comedy Roommate Wanted, from director Michael McCartney, is a classic case of housemates-gone-bad. It’s a tale of all of the different ways white male privilege runs wild; it’s a typical horror story about a man with many personalities in his head; and it’s also a surprisingly sweet look at a young woman coming to terms with her sexuality while the world around her falls apart. Unfortunately, though, for a horror-comedy, it’s disappointingly light on both scares and laughs.

Maria (Angelique Sabrina White) is a college student who’s trying to just keep her head down and figure out what she wants to study, so she can figure out what she wants to do with her life. She also needs to figure out how to tell her friends that she’s dating Kate (MJ Garcia), the pretty friend who comes over all the time.

Unfortunately for Maria, her roommate Ricky (Ricky Cruz) is an inconsiderate slob, leaving the toilet seat up and constantly inviting freeloaders to stay over for as long as they like. Even more unfortunately, their renter turns up dead one morning, so Maria and Ricky rush to find a new renter for their spare room so they don’t have to pay extra.

After a string of weirdos, in walks Dean Rickles (Jack Shulruff), a pleasant, easygoing, fresh-faced guy who seems like the perfect roommate. He says he’s not a partier, he’s happy to respect boundaries, and he can move in right away! Right when he does, though, the oddities start piling up. He seems very protective of his private space. His luggage all says “Vlad” instead of Dean. And when the roommates throw a Halloween rager, he seems like a totally different person, a party animal who introduces himself to Maria’s friends as Charlie. Before long, it becomes clear: Dean has a number of different people living in his mind, and all of them are awful. One of them, in fact, is a killer.

A band performs at the roommates’ Halloween party, with Dean (Jack Shulruff) front row.

Angelique Sabrina White does an admirable job finding small moments to humanize Maria despite what is on the page a character so unlikeable she nearly upends the entire movie. Until she has to flip into survival mode, she spends much of her time complaining, haranguing her roommates over the list of House Rules she’s drawn up for everyone. She asks them about noises coming from their room, snoops through their belongings, and insults their guests to their faces, all while seeming to have very few interests or facets to her personality aside from how she interacts with her roommates.

And yet: when she is alone with her girlfriend, or later when she’s pondering what her closeted life has been like now that it might be imminently cut short, she’s incredibly sympathetic. You really feel for her, and you cheer for her as she battles ferociously against Dean and his many personalities for her safety and the safety of her friends.

Similarly, Dean isn’t a particularly scary villain. He’s a little strange, sure, and when he starts stabbing, well, that’s “scary,” but Roommate Wanted is filmed with very little tension, substituting surprises and shocks for genuine scares. However, Jack Shulruff acts Dean’s many personalities well — he’s no James McAvoy in Split, but he does a good job bringing across each personality’s humanity rather than just making them caricatures. Aside from the sharp end of his knife, the biggest danger he represents is his rampant white-male-ness; he’s constantly dropping comments about Blackness and about women owing him something, putting Maria in uncomfortable jeopardy (as a Black woman) before he ever starts stabbing.

Ricky (Ricky Cruz) tries to unlock a door while Maria (Angelique Sabrina White) guards his back.

Ultimately, Roommate Wanted is a case of talented actors elevating subpar material. The lesbian storyline manages to be touching in spite of the sex scenes being filmed voyeuristically, and Dean Rickles (no relation to Don; in fact, he’s never heard of him) is fun to watch even if he’s not frightening. All in all, a decent 90 minutes.

Roommate Wanted has its World Premiere at the Salem Horror Festival now through October 11th with an All Access Pass, or else during Weekend I, now through October 4th.

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