briarwood: Supernatural: John Winchester (SPN John Waiting)
Morgan Briarwood ([personal profile] briarwood) wrote2011-03-14 04:32 pm
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Movie: The Resident

This weekend I saw The Resident, mostly because I couldn't resist the notion of Jeffrey Dean Morgan and Christopher Lee in the same movie.

It's a horror movie made by the newly revived Hammer studio. Hammer always knew how to make a horror film; the Hammer House of Horror series remains one of the best ever. But this is a new Hammer; the old talent is long gone and the name doesn't guarantee that the new talent will live up to the name. They also made Let Me In, which was very good, if not quite up to the standard of its original, Let The Right One In.

So, The Resident. First things first: it's a 15 cert in the UK which means the horror isn't too gory, the sex isn't too graphic and the swearing is minimal. For many horror afficianados, that's automatically a disappointment. For me...well, sometimes. It depends on what replaces the sex and violence.

Second, like so many films of the genre, this one is badly let down by a trailer that gives far too much away.

The opening credits are brilliant, a montage of peculiar geometry which sets up a feeling that reminded me of the New York of The Bone Collector: sinister and threatening. By contrast the plot of The Resident is fairly cliche: Hilary Swank plays Juliet, an E.R. doctor who has just dumped her cheating boyfriend and is consequently homeless. She moves into a too-good-to-be-true apartment owned by JDM's character, Max, who lives next door with his odd and slightly creepy grandfather (Christopher Lee). There's some mild flirtation between them and an impulsive sexual encounter that doesn't really go anywhere. Things start to take a sinister turn: someone is watching Juliet through the walls. She becomes suspicious, then (justifiably) paranoid and naturally, given the genre, things end in violence.

With that kind of plot, a movie can go one of two ways. It can be a straight-out slasher movie, with the villain merely symbolic of evil, inhuman, no layers of personality. Or it can go the more "postmodern" route, and give the villain some purpose, some goal amid all the violence, so the audience at least understands why, even while we condemn him. The Resident tries hard to be the second kind, but never quite succeeds. Juliet, more than Max, is the symbolic character: everything a man could want. She is beautiful, independent and vulnerable at the same time, she's a doctor so she's intelligent and strong. The first act of the movie is entirely in her point-of-view: we see her being miserable over her break-up, searching for a new place, her girlfriend trying to cheer her up, her perspective on the beginning of her relationship with Max - he's a nice guy and she's attracted to him. Then in a rather jarring about-face the movie backtracks and goes over the same ground from Max's perspective, giving the whole thing a rather more sinister twist. This would have been far more effective had the trailer not already given away the villain's identity; up to that point the audience would be far more likely to suspect Christopher Lee's creepy old man character than the charming JDM.

But this sets the scene for the next act, when the tension escalates toward the inevitable violence. It's a slow build, which I found very effective. There's also a real attempt to inject some humanity into Max, and they picked the right actor for it: JDM believably switches from sweet-and-charming to sinister-stalker to a man on the edge of a breakdown. But there's something lacking. While the script makes a superficial attempt to show the psychological pressures that have turned Max into a creepy voyeur, the hints are dropped like anvils and at peculiar moments. Max is a cookie-cutter version of the serial killer and never quite convinces. And while Max's growing obsession with Juliet and the lengths he'll go to to satisfy it are well drawn and genuinely frightening (rape is implied - you can imagine it didn't go that far, but his intent is pretty clear), the final straw that turns it from voyeuristic obsession into violence I found rather unconvincing. Perhaps because the film does try to get the audience to empathise with Max, the sudden explosion into violence doesn't quite make sense. I mean, he's obviously disturbed and he definitely crosses the line - the film doesn't blame the victim - but my sense of him wasn't the kind of man likely to turn violent. Until he does. As a result, the final scenes in which a deranged Max pursues Juliet and she fights back seem to belong in a different movie, like it's only there because you can't make a horror film that doesn't end in a bloodbath.

(ETA: I guess I need to clarify that a little, since rape is violence by definition. The thing is the rape scene doesn't seem that way - she's unconscious, and while the intent is clear you don't see enough to know rape happened. Molestation, certainly. So when I say he doesn't seem the type to turn violent, I mean that in the extreme sense of violence. He doesn't seem like a man who would turn homicidal or beat a woman. That he's a bad guy is never in doubt.)

It's an odd little movie. I find myself wondering if the best moments ended up on the cutting-room floor, because that attempt to get the audience to empathise with Max could have made for an extremely uncomfortable watch if it were done just a bit better and if the final violence were just a little less, um, pointless. There's a moment near the end when Juliet should have called the cops, and she doesn't (though she does try just a little later) and it might have been a better film if it went that way. Instead it descends into slasher cliches but isn't gory enough to satisfy on that level either.

Verdict: JDM is always worth watching, but wait for the DVD.