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  • Writer's pictureAlex Leptos

REVIEW: 'Cohabitation' (2022), a thriller feature by Lauren Barker

Updated: Feb 16, 2023

While former paramedic Emily tries to live a low-key life to cope with her PTSD, her new roommate has other plans--and a long-held vendetta against medical personnel.

When writing this film, I was interested in the conflict between good and evil, and also the question of whether or not we really know the people who are close to us, both physically and emotionally. How much can someone hide from us, even while living in close proximity to us? The answer could be terrifying, and that's what drove the narrative while I wrote the screenplay. My goal in making the film was to make my first feature film the best I possibly could with the resources I had available to me at the time.

- Lauren Barker (writer/director)

Outside the Spotlight says: Good vs evil. It is the ultimate driving force behind every movie, every book, every story, every part of life. Writer/director Lauren Barker was clearly interested in this dynamic and its closeness with us, whether coming from us, somebody else or our own inner conflicts.

Cohabitation does take perhaps a more conventional approach to the concept but that isn't to say that it lacks depth. The dynamic between the two newly cohabiting roommates, Emily (Tiffany Streng) and Sarah (Stephanie Rose Quinnell) almost takes on a Batman/Joker quality exploring how we react to grief in its many forms along with the "one bad day" that ultimately sends us on those parallel grieving journeys, doing a great job of showcasing the inner machinations of one's mind in relation to it.

Emily is a former paramedic and a fatality on the job that she felt responsible for left her stricken and she subsequently left the profession. She now works at a flower shop, recently moved into a new place and needs a roommate to help make ends meet. That's where Sarah comes in. The film is an expansion of past "roommate from hell" ventures a la 1992's Single White Female or the aptly named The Roommate of 2011 but explores a little further past its premise, taking cues from the "imposter" or home-invasion angle some fright-flicks favour.

Cohabitation really sets itself apart with its deeper characterisation. Emily is scarred, guarded and sympathetic, Sarah is mysterious and frightening. Cohabitation also sports a sub-plot of detectives investigating the mysterious string of strange goings-on in the apartment building, with one of said detectives being Emily's soon-to-be sister-in-law Heather (Carly D. Anderson; arguably the stand-out). As the circle begins to close creating a cat and mouse dynamic is when things start to really pick up.

Cohabitation does favour a slower pace although keeps the viewers' appetite whet with eviction notices and concerning behaviour from "the only sane person" Emily interviewed to be her new roommate; which is really the only scene which includes some humour and does it well, showcasing the more extreme personalities that we may come across day by day.

The rest of the affair favours a rather tame appearance in that many key scenes can be rather abrupt or perhaps a better way of putting it would be 'un-flashy'; seeming to exist merely for the sake of new information which sounds like a strange thing to say considering that that's literally the point; a lot of the dialogue delivery even feels like it's without much urgency. This is interesting because from a viewers perspective on one hand, we want that excitement, drama and tension however real life isn't usually like that and so I suppose there's an authenticity to it.

Whilst the two leads and their supporting cast are for the most part very good, as an actor, genuine madness is undoubtedly a difficult thing to portray convincingly and when it comes to Stephanie Rose Quinnell, she is genuinely good (or genuinely bad?) throughout the majority of it, however stumbles a little when delving into the more unstable parts of her psyche. Moreover, Sarah's ultimate motive felt like it fell a little flat in the end, the synopsis reads that she has a "long-held vendetta against medical personnel" and yet this idea is not explored until the closing minutes.

Most of Cohabitation's major wins are in the technical department, especially in terms of its editing. One of the standout scenes comes just before the climax, as the joyful atmosphere of wedding planning is contrasted with Heather simultaneously closing in on answers; there are some nice and very welcome hints of surrealism here as it almost takes on a pantomime quality.

Cohabitation is a good but flawed debut feature that much like its characters, isn't perfect. There's a lot of great things here and a lot of potential. Lauren Barker is certainly one to watch.

- About the director -

Lauren Barker is a writer and director from Madison, WI. After graduating from Vancouver Film School's screenwriting program, she made her debut feature film, the micro-budget thriller Cohabitation, in her home state of Wisconsin. It premiered at the Twin Cities Film Festival in 2020 and went on to have a successful worldwide festival run, winning the award for Best Actress in a Feature (for Tiffany Streng) at the Milwaukee Twisted Dreams Film Festival. The film then secured global distribution through Indie Rights. To support herself and gain connections throughout her career, Barker has worked as a production assistant and assistant camera on commercials and TV. She has also written for various online publications. She speaks French and some German, and enjoys studying languages and learning the etymology of words.

Cohabitation has been featured at a number of film festivals, namely:

Twin Cities Film Festival (world premiere) October 2020

Film Girl Film Festival, November 2020

Boden International Film Festival, March 2021

Nepal International Film Festival, May 2021

Screen Power Film Festival, May 2021

Milwaukee Twisted Dreams Film Festival, June 2021

Athens International Monthly Art Film Festival, November 2021

Shockfest Film Festival, December 2021

With awards for:

Best Actress in a Feature Film - Tiffany Streng at the Milwaukee Twisted Dreams Film Festival

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