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Non-Review Review: The Resident

While I was watching The Resident, I couldn’t help but think of Pacific Heights. Maybe it was the fact that I had just watched Jackie Brown and Michael Keaton was fresh in my head, but I really couldn’t get the comparison out of my head. Both movies have a rather fascinating central premise, and a fertile ground for horror – the notion that we know next-to-nothing about the people we finding ourselves living with – but both also fail to follow through on some truly great potential. There are moments when The Resident seems to be working, but they’re all too briefly brushed aside in a movie that doesn’t seem willing to build or develop its unsettling undertones.

This relationship is suffocating her...

In fairness, The Resident has a great central hook. The premise here is the stuff of nightmares. We live our lives in such close proximity to one another, and yet seem quite remote and detached. The rather basic idea of home invasion is a very unsettling idea, as one can jud by the sheer volume of movies released in recent years based around the concept. However, the relatively low success rate demonstrates that you need more than a basic concept to sustain a horror film.

The Resident does, to its credit, find a novel twist to the formula. What if you didn’t have to worry about a threat from an equal? What if the danger didn’t come from a roommate or a neighbour? What if the person who was terrorising you happened to be the guy with keys to your apartment? What if it was the guy you paid the rent to? It isn’t some random crank who has to play the system to get at you, it’s the guy who controls the entire building? It is suitably chilling stuff. And Jeffrey Dean Morgan does his best here, playing the unsettled supervisor.

The power of Chris compels you...

The movie follows a young doctor who moves into a perfectly affordable and very stylish apartment following a break-up with her long-term boyfriend. She flirts with the superintendent running the building, and they almost hook-up. Of course, it’s revealed that he’s a creepy peeping tom, one who has been manipulating her ever since catching a glimpse of her after his grandfather had a stroke. Unfortunately, the movie never really develops his fixation on her, which is pretty much the core problem with the film: it has a nice central idea, but the execution never really gels.

It seems like an awfully contrived coincidence that the building superintendent just so happens to zone in on the one doctor who happens to need an apartment (as he only found out she was looking afterwards). It’s also interesting that his stalking obsession happens to switch on at the moment his grandfather has a stroke – a shrewder movie might try to connect the two events, or suggest that he snapped at that instant, or that it triggered an emotional dependence. Instead, the movie just treats it as a convenient device. Which is a shame, because Morgan is genuinely trying to make the character work – seeming equally creepy and pathetic, coming closer to making him comprehensible than the script seems to allow.

While you were sleeping...

And so the film sort of stumbles along from there. The female lead is a bit of a problem. Part of the issue is Hilary Swank, who never seemed to capture the same energy she brought to her earliest roles. That said, she really doesn’t have much to work with here. The character is just horrible written, a veritable collection of “too dumb to live” clichés rolled into one package. When she discovers a hidden room in her kitchen, she doesn’t investigate in the slightest – which is convenient, because it would give the game away. Unfortunately, the discovery ultimately seems to serve no purpose, as she doesn’t give the mysterious room anymore thought, and it doesn’t feed into her growing discomfort in her ideal home. More than that, though, I find it strange how easily she blows off her ex-boyfriend’s “I followed you one night”, given the movie’s themes about voyeurism and stalking.

That said, there are moments that do work. Long shots that reveal the creepy landlord standing in the shadows are unsettling, as are the moments when he does things like using her toothbrush or sniffing her clothes. These moments would make for effective building blocks and for a point of escalation… if the movie had a sense of pacing. Despite the fact that the stalking intensifies over the course of the movie, things never seem to get any more tense. He does horrible things to her, but it never seems like his actions are building towards increasingly disturbing things… they just seem to sort of happen, for lack of a better word.

Wetting your appetite?

The climax of the movie is the perfect example. It just turns into a standard chase sequence, which is disappointing – particularly since it seems like some his actions towards her were ultimately gratuitous. You could have put this ending on any urban thriller, and it would have worked, which takes away from the fact that the movie had a reasonably clever twist on the urban horror genre to begin with. It just feels generic, which is a terrible thing for any chiller to feel – the familiar is, by definition, never truly uncomfortable, and horror needs to make us uncomfortable.

It’s a shame, because there are good moments, and Jeffrey Dean Morgan is solid. Part of me is giddy at the idea of Christopher Lee in a Hammer Horror film, especially after all this time. It gets bonus points because he includes the line “I’m sorry if I scared you” in his first scene, which is fitting from the actor who helped define the studio so well. It’s just a shame that his homecoming wasn’t as spectacular as he deserved. It’s doubly disappointing because the ingredients are clearly present.

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