Hammer Films, the British production company that became synonymous with horror through their 1950s-70s output, appeared on the radar last year after a decades-long absence with the Let Me In, a surprisingly excellent remake of the Swedish original, Let the Right One In. That film underperformed in the US and went straight to DVD in the Czech Republic; Hammer’s latest, The Resident went straight to DVD in the US but opens wide in Czech cinemas this week.
Made by Finnish director Antti Jokinen, The Resident is an urban psychological thriller with some light horror overtones and a vaguely familiar air. A great deal of it is wretched: wooden acting, awful dialogue, few thrills and less chills. But it’s competently made, and extremely well-shot, and nearly saved by an extended climax that finally delivers a jolt of energy.
Hilary Swank stars as Juliet Devereau, an emergency room doctor who has just split from her husband (Lee Pace) after revelations of infidelity. She scours New York City for a place to live, and boy does she find it: a luxurious, just-renovated apartment for next-to-nothing a month. Even the landlord, Max (Jeffrey Dean Morgan), seems exceedingly nice.
For the first act, The Resident seems to be heading into romance, with the sweet, shy Max trying to make good with his new tenant, and Juliet vaguely receptive. But then there’s the reveal, and everything is not as it first seemed. The twist is neat, if nothing surprising; Jokinen’s handling of it, however – armed with new knowledge, he then replays entire passages from earlier in the film – quickly grows tiresome.
From this point, there are no surprises (well, there’s one – I didn’t think they’d go that far) and The Resident quickly devolves into standard thriller fare, light on the thrills. But it looks great: luscious cinematography by Guillermo Navarro (Jackie Brown, Pan’s Labyrinth) swings and sways through the apartment setting, and inside the creepy passages behind the walls. And the finale – an extended chase sequence inside those dark passages – finally delivers something above a hushed whisper.
I like both Swank and Morgan, but the film does them no favors; saddled with some incredibly inane dialogue, each turns in a wooden performance. Christopher Lee, who became famous (alongside Peter Cushing) under the original Hammer Films banner, is mostly wasted in a few scenes as Max’s grandfather.
There was a rush of these urban peril thrillers back in the early 90s (see: Pacific Heights, Unlawful Entry, Single White Female, Bad Influence, The Hand That Rocks the Cradle, et. al.) in which the benevolent policeman/tenant/roommate/cable guy/nanny our protagonist befriends seems nice, but ultimately turns out to be a raving psychopath. These films were likely inspired by Fatal Attraction, with rebuffed friendship replacing rejected love as the (generally unsatisfying) reason the antagonist snaps.
They’ve always felt queasy to me: the ‘bad guy’ is usually the most interesting character (and films like The Talented Mr. Ripley, which actually follow the psychopath, are infinitely more engaging) and since we’re presented both friendly and crazy versions of the character, we tend to identify with them as humans; we want to see them get help, not see them blasted away in revenge movie fashion.
2011 has seen a mini-resurgence of these films in The Resident and The Roommate (at least the titles have become more to-the-point). The Roommate was entirely wretched; The Resident has its moments if you’re an especially forgiving viewer. This particular subgenre, however, is fundamentally flawed.