31 Days of Hallowe’en, Day 16: The Dorm (2014)

the dorm 2014

I was an awkward-looking, awkwardly-acting kid. Growth spurts were perilous to my balance and literal uprightness. To mitigate this, I would often hurl my pencil case to the ground so that I’d at least minimise the grazing my arms would get. I wasn’t a particularly attractive girl in my teens (not much has changed, there). But since I went to a small, all-girls’ school, and I knew that I wasn’t ever going to be set up for fending off guys with a stick, I quickly accepted that I could concern myself with things other than “why can’t I be pretty?”

the dorm 2014

But I can still relate to Day 16’s movie, the (M)TV horror The Dorm. Vivian (Alexis Knapp) is a shy college freshman with bad skin and a bit of a lumpy figure. Both are fine and not played for schlock, but since her story arc begins with a physical transformation, I feel insensitive writing things like “if she wore even a tiny bit of makeup, she’d look ‘nice'” or “form-fitting clothing would suit her better”, although that’s where the movie steers us. Vivian wants to be pretty, but beauty on screen = conformity, because how can you convey that “eye of the beholder” stuff on film?

the dorm 2014

So after drinking some tea with her new housemates, she starts to notice she’s losing the chunk, her skin gets better overnight (it literally peels off as a bad onion layer), she dyes her hair black and starts to wear makeup and dress a little more fashionably. And this tugs harshly at my nostalgia strings, because it’s very reminiscent of a series of Point Horror (like Goosebumps) books by Caroline B. Cooney, in which a vampire promises a girl overnight natural beauty in exchange for…well, I forget. But I remember it being an awesome depiction of a vampire in young adult (or any) fiction – the vampire is a duplicitous asshole, and this shady shit always has consequences.

the dorm 2014

Vivian’s sudden blossoming has those – with her beauty she has confidence, but mystery abounds. She starts hallucinating, having nightmares, and hearing voices. And what happened to the girl who lived in her room before she did?

the dorm 2014

It’s all a bit mildly spooky, like a Disney channel disposable horror. Nobody is really very good at emoting or saying their lines properly, but the plot, which keeps threatening to wind up, is enough to give it a go. There are some moments that promise genuine dread, but they’re each fart-butted on by an overbearing soundtrack, like a school bully that insists on helping you tell a joke or takes credit for something you did. I really don’t give a shit that one of the lead actresses is a singer; maybe her record label gave a discount on licensing but the Lizzie McGuire power-pop just shits on the tone this movie could have had. Which doesn’t matter anyway because the ending is painfully convoluted. Aside from the aforementioned nostalgia nudge, there isn’t a reason to watch this movie. Life is short. There is a finite amount of time and an abundance of horror movies. Go watch one of those other ones instead.

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