Sunday, October 09, 2011

Buyer's Remorse

I think the mistake I'm making with the October Challenge this year is that I'm not peppering my month with legitimately good movies. I haven't watched anything this month to alleviate the feeling that this year's challenge is a chore rather than an adventure. Things did not improve with The Resident (2011, directed by Antti Jokinen), a film that has an excellent cast and style to burn, but squanders both. I mean, it's watchable. It's even heartwarming to see the venerable Christopher Lee in another movie bearing the Hammer Studios imprimatur. But "watchable" isn't the same as "good."

The story here follows ER doctor Juliet Devereau (Hilary Swank) as she moves into a new apartment. The landlord is seemingly nice guy Max (Jeffery Dean Morgan), who runs the place for his grandfather (Lee). Juliet is exhausted from her job and coming off a bad relationship. She kind of fancies her new landlord, who seems kind and shy. But there's something about her new place that makes her feel watched. She never feels alone there. And with good reason...

This is a variant of every woman in danger thriller of the last thirty years or so, and it doesn't really have any surprises built into its plot. How can it? There is a conservation of characters going on in this movie in which there are only two candidates for the role of menacing creep, and it's painfully obvious who it is. The movie doesn't hide its hand and lays down its cards a third of the way into the movie. After that point, it's an exercise in make-work, as it goes through the motions of escalating threat and false climaxes. But it also does something that's inherently alienating.

As I say, the movie lays its cards on the table at about the thirty minute mark, at which point, it changes its point of view. Up to that point, everything has been seen through they eyes of Juliet, and the movie has gone to great lengths to emphasize that part of her viewpoint is influenced by emotional exhaustion. There's a film there, one the filmmakers here abandon. The NEW point of view is Max, and here, the filmmakers are operating on the assumption that the audience wants to get inside the head of a creep. I mean, I see what they're trying to do. They're trying to balance the psychology of predator and victim. But it doesn't work. Max isn't that interesting. He's certainly not as interesting Juliet.

A lot of this comes down to the actors. Hilary Swank is a two time Oscar winner, and even though she's taken some ill-advised roles over the course of her career, she can and does bring her A-game most of the time and her A-game is considerable. She brings it here even if the filmmakers refuse to take advantage. The part is a good one for her, and she invests it with considerable humanity. I like Jeffrey Dean Morgan. I think he's a fine actor. He's in a bad situation here. Not only is he saddled with an unsympathetic character, he's playing opposite someone who acts rings around him. It's an unequal balance of power, and it harms the movie, unfortunately.

It's not all down to the actors, though, and it would be wrong of me to lay the film's ultimate failure on Morgan. It's not his fault. He does what' he's asked as well as anyone. The ultimate fault lays with the screenplay, which doesn't reach beyond the woman in peril cliches even as it looks for tricky narrative gimmicks to sell the audience on them. This is yesterday's fish wrapped in today's newspaper.

Current tally: 8 films

First time viewings: 8

Around the web:

Bob Turnbull over at The Eternal Sunshine of the Logical Mind has posted the second installment of his Challenge diary, in which he writes about Tales from the Darkside, In Dreams, The Mill of the Stone Women, and The Black Cat (1941).

Mr. Gable's ordeal continues with Boarding House and Side Show.

Dr.AC continues his Challenge for Charity with another batch of diaries here, here, and here. Your humble bloginatrix is going to owe the erstwhile Doctor some cash at the end of the month.

The Vicar of VHS continues to set the challenge on fire with a trip to The Baby's Room.

J. Luis over at W-Cinema dips into Turkish horror with Semum.

Jenn over at Cavalcade of Perversion posts her first challenge diary, with thoughts on Dracula vs. Frankenstein, The Bat, The Unnameable, The Day the World Ended, Night of the Creeps, The Snow Creature, and The Wasp Woman. She's off to a terrific start.


Laura said...

Holy C, I JUST watched this movie a few nights ago. I was also disappointed. Swank and Morgan are both likable and mature actors, so it was frustrating on their behalf when the movie devolved into tried and true slasher/thriller territory--and a poorly done slasher/thriller, at that. The filmmakers were trying so hard for realism in the earlier scenes, so the damn cliched "OH GOOD HE'S FINALLY DEAD BUT WAIT NO HE'S NOT CUZ HE'S LUNGING AT ME" trope came across even more laughable than usual.

And Christopher Lee's role was too small, darnit. I mean, I know he's almost ninety, but c'mon! Oh, and here's something random I've been wondering: he is supposed to be the father of Max's mother, right? If not, that adds a whole other level of creepy to the movie: "my own son was a pathetic waste of space, but his wife was beeeeautiful."

Joel Harley said...

Watchable is about right. I enjoyed it, but it's a complete waste of everyone involved.

If Swank, Morgan and Christopher Lee hadn't been in it, I wouldn't have been surprised to find The Resident languishing as Straight To TV nonsense.