Roman, written, directed and produced by Dwight Wilkins, is an initially intriguing and unsettling drama that depicts a personal apocalyptic moment and an excavation of family history. It is religious in nature, warning of the dangers of infidelity, desire and irresponsibility. The titular character, Roman (Darold Lingo), is brooding and disconcerting, on the verge of lashing out, he is uncomfortable to spend a sustained period of time with.
Roman, a man approaching middle age, is caught between three women and two paths: life and death. The film opens as he is being corrected by his Pastor (Brian Anthony Wilson): he thinks Roman is obsessed with a woman who isn’t his wife, that he can’t control his desires, that he is neglecting church and that he has unresolved trauma surrounding his dad’s death. Over the first half of the film we are introduced to three women: Roman’s wife, Ethel (Iyana Campbell), his girlfriend, Neesha (Wendi Smith), and his work colleague, Mary (Nika Shakhmuradova) who represent different paths for Roman’s life. Two people gossiping at church say that Ethel can’t get pregnant and that she and Roman are having money issues. There’s a social claustrophobia in the locality that is characterized well. Everyone talks. When Roman sees a note saying that he has seven days to live, he is forced to face up to his past, present and future.
Roman constructs moments of horror well. It is a strangely atmospheric film that has the ability to knock you off your balance when you least expect it. A slight genre shift has the desired effect, and the film builds an abstract sense of dread while remaining grounded in people and relationships. The performance by Lingo does enough to carry the story forwards, though some of the complimentary performances don’t quite hit the mark. Roman struggles with emotionality. The writing and characterization, in particular, makes it difficult to connect with Roman as a person and the film lacks human substance. The female characters only exist as accessories to Roman, and the moral message, not essentially a negative, doesn’t afford much influence to the women in the film other than as temptations or objects of desire.
The technical aspects of the film are solid. The cinematography is functional, though a little rough. Roman never has a seamlessness to it, cuts and edits reveal themselves, which does impact some of the tension in the film, but this is not a fatal problem. The sound design builds atmosphere well at points, and the use of different locations is impressive, which contributes to some enjoyable sequences. The film is just over an hour long, and doesn’t overstay its welcome, but the plot and characters don’t develop enough interest for the experience to be entirely gripping.
Roman is a film with an interesting concept that combines genres well, but ultimately struggles to engender a deep emotional response. The more tense and horror aspects of the film are well-constructed and disorienting, but the characterization of the central protagonists are lacking which, for a film primarily about relationships, really stunts its impact. The film’s redemptive message is well-meaning but lacks subtlety and complexity.
It is instantly apparent what the message of the film is and the view that the filmmakers want you to have. It uses a Biblical framework of morality, but doesn’t wrestle with the complexity of this worldview: providing an often superficial interpretation of Christianity. Roman, though atmospheric at times, fails to hit home with its emotional, redemptive message.