I think I'll just live alone, thanks.
True crime, while a popular genre on just about every streaming service out there, is the bread and butter for Netflix. Making a Murderer, Tiger King, Evil Genius — the list goes on and on. Worst Roommate Ever (which, first of all, can we all agree is a terrible title?) is very much in tune with what Netflix has pumped out before. It combines victim recounts with sweeping cinematography and an eerily suspenseful score to pull off a captivating yet cautionary tale of homegrown terror. While it may not be the sharpest knife in the drawer of Netflix documentaries, it holds enough originality and flare to stand out from the rest.
Worst Roommate Ever covers four terrifying individuals over the course of five episodes. From Dorothea Puente, who looks like a sweet old lady on the outside but enjoys murder like its a morning cup of coffee, to Jamison Bachman, the serial squatter with a lawyer's mentality, these subjects are truly the worst roommates you could ask for. And for those who aren't familiar with the cases (myself included) the documentary does an excellent job at providing the necessary background details to truly round out the displayed evil.
From start to finish, Worst Roommate Ever is shocking, not just in terms of the real-world recounts of the incidents and crimes but in how director Domini Hofmann chooses to visually tell the stories. By using distinct animation — resembling composite drawings and colored pencil work — the horror hits harder as we aren't watching paid actors recreate a scene. It feels silly at first, maybe a bit childish, but it is ultimately done in such a methodical way that it plays into the horror rather than dampening the impact. I found the reenactments to be the best part of the whole series. There's something about seeing a drawn serial killer come to life that is unquestionably powerful — both in terms of visual horror, but also as a smart storytelling technique.
From there, the victims' stories and police reports paint a wider picture of caution. How do you prevent yourself from rooming with a psycho? That's the core question being asked, and I'd like to say the doc does a fine job at providing answers. Most importantly, it shows how manipulative people can be and how easily we trust strangers based on appearance. If anything, the doc emphasizes the importance of character references.
The one downside is the doc occasionally dips into the realm of exploitation, tending to focus on the glamour of these twisted individuals over the emotional stories of survival. Fortunately, as the show progresses that glamour transitions into more of a study. I found myself wanting to know so much more about how the survivors did, in fact, survive encounters with these people. There's a tenacity to these survivors, and you can tell the pent up rage is what fuels them to tell their stories. I was mesmerized, especially in the final three episodes. And when a documentary can harmonize sheer terror with raw human emotion, that's when gold is struck. In short, Netflix has done it again.
- Final Thoughts -
Worst Roommate Ever is an inventive true crime series with an emphasis on home horror. In lieu of live-action reenactments, the show uses unique composite drawings to bring evil to life in a way that will linger in your mind for days. While a strong focus on the murderous subjects occasionally overshadows the survivor accounts, I was mesmerized by the meshing of raw human emotion with blood-curdling terror. This is a true crime well worth your time.
(Worst Roommate Ever image courtesy of Netflix)