Review: Room 203

Written and directed by Ben Jagger, co-written by John Poliquin and Nick Richey, when best friends move into a dark and mysterious apartment, they become convinced that evil spirits haunt their new home. As they investigate the tortured history, they unearth a terrifying past of disappearances, demonic rituals and possessions. Starring: Francesca Xuereb, Viktoria Vinyarska, Eric Wiegand and Scott Gremillion.

Adding together a haunted building with a gruesome past and two young friends, blissfully unaware and ready to start their new lives, you’ve got a solid set-up for a satisfyingly dark story. However, the key problem is that these writers trip over themselves trying to fill the gaps between those darker moments. There’s a typical vibe of over-stereotypical young women, missing the touch of an actual woman, and instead coming across cheesy and cliched. There’s also the rather forced dramatic history to their friendship which doesn’t have much to add. It forgoes a relatable, everyday female friendship for a few cheap layers. It’s a shame to see, as beneath that layer of sentimentality is a decent story, it may not be entirely original but it doesn’t need to be, to still be enjoyable.

That saccharine tone also undermines the strongest feature, the direction. When it’s not falling into drama, there’s a genuine tension and a thick atmosphere of fatal consequences. It doesn’t lean too much on violence or shock, choosing smaller ways to disturb the audience and keep an unsettled feeling. Despite being slowed down occasionally by the rosier moments, it still moves at a good pace and holds your attention well. Although, it does have a few issues with the cinematography, particularly closer to the end, choosing to darken things for effect so much that it loses the level of detail.

Unfortunately the performances also fall foul of that sentimentality, especially when being framed in the context of one woman being good and the other, a troubled party girl. It does feel as if, had the characters been better developed and more individual, Francesca Xuereb and Viktoria Vinyarska could have drawn more from these roles to enrich the unsettling atmosphere. Xuereb and Eric Wiegand have a solid romantic chemistry, hitting a more genuine sweet note. However, Scott Gremillion falls into almost every cliché in the horror playbook, which doesn’t do the film any favours in the long run.

Room 203 has a classic horror concept but loses out on its larger potential by struggling to create relatable, authentic characters to lead the story. It does well to build a sinister, creeping darkness, and holds a great tension in its chilling moments. It may not be an entirely new idea but if it hadn’t been busy trying to create cheap backstories for its leading ladies, it could have made for a thoroughly entertaining horror. Nevertheless, as it stands, it’s still worth a watch for any horror fan.

Verdict: ✯✯✯ | 6/10

On VOD & in Limited Theaters April 15th

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