Sunday, May 20, 2012

The Resident

I don't often watch Hilary Swank movies.  It's not that I dislike her --- although two Oscars seems a bit much, in my opinion --- it's just that she stars in a lot of crap.  I have similar feelings about Jeffrey Dean Morgan; I like the guy just fine, but he's not in many things I want to watch.  No, what drew me into The Resident was the fact that this was a Hammer Films production featuring Christopher Lee.  Plus, I just reviewed The Apartment, and I found the pairing amusing.  I haven't seen many classic Hammer movies, but I was completely unaware that they had resurrected the brand recently and made a few noteworthy pics (that I haven't seen yet).  Christopher Lee, a two-time Best Actress, a solid character actor, and a classic movie brand --- what could go wrong?
"That much do you love rape?"

Juliet (Hilary Swank) is a New York City emergency room doctor in need of a new home.  She receives a call from someone, telling her that there is an apartment for rent.  When she arrives, she finds an enormous place in an older building that is nearly perfect: great wood floors, about three acres of floorspace, and a ridiculous view of the city.  The downside is that the train passes pretty close to the building and things have a tendency to vibrate off of shelves.  The price is shockingly cheap (by NYC standards), so Juliet takes the place.
"I like the plastic on the walls.  It makes it easier to clean blood off!"
Her landlord is Max (Jeffrey Dean Morgan), whose only job appears to be renovating the building; Max and his grandfather, August (Christopher Lee), are the building's only other tenants.  Juliet loves her new place, but the creaks and moans of the building play tricks on her, making her think that she is not alone.  Nevertheless, things appear to be getting better for her.  She even randomly encounters Max socially and the two hit it off; in other words, the pair quickly start getting naked together.

Now stop.  Rewind.  The film backs up to give the viewer an alternate point of view on the story thus far.  It turns out that the friendly Max has been stalking Juliet for some time and she played right into his hands.  Remember those moments Juliet thought she wasn't alone?  That's because she wasn't.  Two-way mirrors, peepholes and secret passages abound in her apartment, and you can be sure that behind every creepy noise in the place, Max is hiding and breathing heavily.
Aww!  Look at that puppy dog face!  You are forgiven for everything, Max!
At this point, the film can take a few directions.  The first would be for the pair to start dating and either become a lovely couple, or his creepy nature would turn this into a taut thriller, where Juliet only gradually realizes how dangerous Max is --- and he's sleeping right next to her!  Alternately, Juliet could put a stop to their naked time before the grinding starts and Max could go into full-on horror movie villain mode.  The Resident opts for the second, easier, route.

How's the acting in The Resident?  I suppose that depends on how forgiving you are.  I wouldn't say that Hilary Swank was good, but she played her role capably.  Is it her fault that her character is almost fatally stupid?  I don't think so, but it would have been nice for her paranoid character to call the police, even once.  I will say, however, that I was surprised that she had some brief getting-out-of-the-tub nudity; that's just about the cheapest excuse for nudity you will come across in a film, and I wasn't expecting it from her in a horror flick.  I'm not complaining, I'm just saying.  Jeffrey Dean Morgan was certainly creepy for a good portion of this film, so I guess he was somewhat successful.  Toward the end of the movie, he exchanged creepiness for sub-par horror slasher villainy, and he wasn't very good at that.  I would say that he was solid for the first half of the film, but when the plot returned from its flashback, his performance went downhill quickly.  Christopher Lee felt out of place in this movie, somehow; I like seeing him act, but hearing his strong voice coming out of his frail body made me a little sad.
Little known fact: Christopher Lee is Noah
Lee Pace didn't have much do do.  He played Juliet's unfaithful ex, and his part was fairly unremarkable.  He got beat up like a chump twice and went grocery shopping.
Not necessarily in that order
Aunjanue Ellis is the only supporting character that isn't terribly important in the overall plot.  She urges Juliet to date Max and talks trash about Lee Pace.  On the one hand, I guess her character can be seen as someone encouraging Juliet, but everything she supports (take the apartment, date Max, etc.) is really, really bad advice.

The Resident was Antti Jokinen's first (and so far, only) feature film director credit.  That's probably for the best.  I will give Jokinen some credit; I thought the first thirty minutes were surprisingly solid, although the story felt familiar.  I also like that the "surprise" of Max being a creep was not held back as a major plot twist, because...well, it was pretty damn obvious.  His fancier camera work was handled clumsily, making scenes that should have been ambiguous (is she alone, or isn't she?) pretty cut-and-dried.  I didn't like the choice to rewind the plot to show us how awful Max is, but I suppose it was better than him having a shrine to Juliet in his closet.  My main problem with how Jokinen directed this movie was that he was inconsistent.  I would have been fine with this film if he had maintained the suspense from the first act.  The second act, during the rewind, took all the mystery from the story.  The third act just sucked, as Max went from creepy to evil with less buildup than the 12th kill in a Jason movie.  I don't think Jokinen did a terrible job directing this film, but he certainly didn't make this story better with his direction.
Example: he frequently told his actors to look perturbed, not scared

Unfortunately, Jokinen was also responsible for the major weakness of The Resident: the writing.  He co-wrote this screenplay with a guy who was involved in the third Underworld movie, so the talent pool for this screenplay was not particularly deep.  Still, this story is pure crap.  Ignoring the cliche of the nice guy who is secretly disturbed, there really isn't any other logical suspect when Juliet gets paranoid that she is being watched.  So, that means Juliet is either paranoid or her landlord is spying on her; given the title, that seems like a poorly constructed mystery.  What really pushed this movie over the edge from drudgery to utter crap was how the writers showed that Max was disturbed.  Max's primary way to get close to Juliet was by drugging her and touching her while she was asleep.  Licking her hands was creepy enough, but raping her while she was unconscious was more gross than shocking.
That's so...erotic?
If you're going to make rape a plot point, that should not be the effect.  I also did not need to see multiple scenes where Max masturbated while in Juliet's apartment.  They throw in some stuff where Christopher Lee implies that Max's parents were disturbed, too, but it doesn't go anywhere.  I think they overplayed their hand with Max, making his transition from peeper to murderer/rapist too abrupt.
It's surprisingly well-lit when Max chooses to creep
I would have been much happier if Max was just creepy and maybe building up toward rape, when he panics and kills someone and, from there, we see him get more desperate and his actions more drastic.  There's just no build to this plot whatsoever.  Instead of being suspenseful or scary, it is boring, over-familiar and uncomfortable.  I should be rooting for either the killer or the heroine here, but neither is particularly likable.  I had difficulty understanding why I wasn't sympathetic toward Juliet for a little while.  Then, I realized that she was an idiot.  She oversleeps after her evening wine bottle was drugged; instead of drinking less, she blames it on her apartment.  Yes, that makes perfect sense.  On the bright side, the movie did end with a nail gun-related death, so there's that.

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