Room 203 Review

Inspired by Nanami Kamon’s original novel, Room 203 is Ben Jagger’s new film that explores one of the most memorable horror genre staples: the haunted property. This trope is always attractive and fun to explore. However, its popularity is also a double-edged sword. On one hand, they are a safe bet in terms of picking the interest of a thrill-seeking audience but, at the same time, said the audience will look for something that stands out among similar works.

In a world saturated with Ju-On and Amityville Horror rip-offs that have desensitized viewers, Can Jagger’s Room 203 bring something new to the table? The answer is yes, but maybe not in the way you think.

The Plot

Room 203 tells the story of two friends, Kim (Francesca Xuereb) and Izzy (Viktoria Vinyarska). They have been friends for the longest time but just now they are taking the next step and they are becoming roommates. While at first this arrangement seems like every pair of childhood friends’ dream, things are not going exactly smoothly for each of them. Izzy is an aspiring actress who is still dealing with some emotional issues after the death of her mother to suicide. Simultaneously, Kim is a brand-new college student who has been sort of disowned by her strict parents for choosing to move in with “bad influence” Izzy.

Due to their personal circumstances, their renting options are limited so they end up in the aforementioned Room 203. While the place is old and just as creepy as their landlord, Ronan, they try to make the best of it. Unfortunately, soon they start to notice that something is not quite well with the place and that might or might not be taking a toll on them, especially Izzy.

Did it Work?

Room 203, in many ways, follows to a tee many of the same old haunted house tropes. It makes sense since the source material was published in 2004, in the wake of the popularity of pivotal J-Horror films exploring the same topic as Dark Water. I was not able to find any translation of the source material, but it is probable that it did not give Jagger much wiggle room to change things up, at least not in terms of mythology. For this reason, the story may be a tad too unoriginal for horror connoisseurs.

However, Jagger makes the right choice to focus on Kim and Izzy’s friendship. It seems he knew it was where the heart of the movie could lay, and he went for it. He knows how to flesh them out and make them look like real young people who are excited to dip their toes into independence for the first time. Their relationship dynamics are dysfunctional indeed.

Izzy is still grieving her mother’s death and, since Kim becomes her sole caretaker, the latter often ends up being dragged into many situations she is uncomfortable with or not equipped to handle. Kim’s heart is in the right place, but early on is clear she does not have enough experience or resources to help Izzy as much as she would like to. Love and friendship help but it is not enough and when things get supernatural, this insufficiency becomes even clearer. Yes, the supernatural aspect may be flawed and repetitive, but since it is framed into these sorts of conflicts, it gives some of the sense of originality that the movie desperately needs.

In terms of acting, Xuereb and Vinyarska seem entirely committed to their roles. They make Izzy and Kim’s friendship believable, despite being polar opposites in many ways. Their interactions seem genuine because both are equally vulnerable, and their strengths complement each other. In Izzy’s case, she is street smart, but Vinyarska adds a raw vulnerability beneath her character’s tough exterior. In parallel, Kim is more conventional, even silly, but Xuereb makes her endearing and, above all, relentless when the situation calls for it. Ian (Eric Wiegan), Kim’s love interest, conveys a likable persona in his role as the most genre-savvy character in the film. Since most of the movie’s acting is charming enough, Ronan’s character (Scott Gremillion) suffers in comparison. While it is clear it was meant to be like that, Gremillion’s performance is awkward, and I am not sure if that was intentional on his part or not.

As for the cinematography, it falls in the usual hyper-dark tones and lighting associated with horror films. In a way, I would have loved to see Jagger thinking outside the box here. Yes, the girls’ apartment is creepy and that window does not help at all, but it would have been awesome to see it more integrated into their personalities. Imagine how jarring (and sad) could have been to see them trying harder to make their apartment cozy and lovely, only for it to turn against them nevertheless. Comparatively, the sound was one of my favorite aspects of the production. The main theme has a repetitive cadence that makes you feel like you are counting the seconds until the next bad thing happens–it complimented the story’s pace perfectly. 

Final Thoughts

Room 203 is an idyllic horror movie to watch casually. It will not require much energy to process everything that is happening and, at the same time, Izzy and Kim will keep you interested until the end. The fact that sometimes even subverted the typical horror movie dynamics here and there is also a plus. Those little touches of plot rebellion are commendable and that is why Room 203 stands out despite its predictability.

Room 203 Debuts on VOD and in Limited Theaters on April 15th Courtesy of Ammo Entertainment, and Vertical Entertainment

 

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