Eye For Film >> Movies >> The Resident (2011) Film Review
Reviewed by: David Graham
The resurrection of The House That Dripped Blood continues with a claustrophobic thriller, but can Hammer Studios eclipse the mixed reception it received for comeback remake Let Me In? It's often forgotten that Hammer's horror heyday also saw them investing in a variety of other genres, from sci-fi like the Quatermass films to psychological dramas such as the superlative Bette Davis vehicle The Nanny. Their latest shows they still hold characterisation and atmospherics in as high regard as scares and gore.
Hilary Swank stars as Juliet, a newly-single Manhattanite looking for a place to call home. She is amazed to find a huge Brooklyn loft space she can actually afford - with an attentive and attractive live-in landlord in the shape of Jeffrey Dean Morgan's Max to boot. Surely there's a catch? Well, Max has a crotchety old grandpa down the hall, but otherwise Juliet seems to have landed on her feet. But as she settles in, she can't shake the feeling that the creaky building hides a sinister presence, keeping her awake at night and making her late for work in the morning. When her blossoming relationship with Max turns sour, things get increasingly unsettling as she realises her paranoia may be justified.
It's undeniable that the plot feels overly familiar, being a virtual retread of Eighties stalk-em-up Through The Eyes Of A Killer, and borrowing liberally from countless others. The film does manage to build up a clammy sense of foreboding, with the first half hour featuring many uncomfortably voyeuristic shots of a scantily-clad Swank, foreshadowing what's to come and putting the audience in the stalker's place. Swank and Morgan also have a very tangible chemistry; her hurt is all too clear despite the brave face she puts on it, while his louche charm and inviting smile paper over his character's obvious creepiness.
Bizarrely, first-time director Antii Jokinen dissipates the momentum he's so carefully built by throwing a five-minute long flashback sequence into proceedings at the end of the first act. It's a temporary spanner in the works for the audience's involvement with the characters, condescendingly showing us everything that's just happened from a different point of view. This may have worked towards the end, but coming so early it changes the whole rhythm of the story, switching increasingly to the stalker's perspective. It's just as well that he proves so skin-crawlingly fascinating, Jokinen marshalling a performance that provokes sympathy as well as disgust while wisely keeping his history and motives relatively ambiguous. Crucial to this is Hammer legend Christopher Lee, who shines in his small but surprisingly complex role as old man August, a pathetic ball of self-loathing and resentment.
The script nicely acknowledges the unavoidable awareness that the property must be too good to be true; there's a well-played scene where Morgan tries his best to put Swank off with an honest account of its various bugbears, only for her to over-zealously offer excuses for how things like the building-bothering trains won't disturb her, being an ER doctor who sleeps like the dead. It's all too easy to relate to Swank's character in these early scenes, coming off a traumatic break-up and looking for the positives in her new lifestyle. However, there are some cringeworthy exchanges between Juliet and her workmates that are about as convincing as adults trying to talk 'street' to kids, and when her former flame reappears their scenes together fail to spark, making it hard to buy into their rekindling relationship.
Jokinen manages to stay impressively restrained until surprisingly late in the game, judiciously revealing the extent of the stalker's intrusions a piece at a time. Juliet's eventual revelation of just what has been happening in her home at night is just as shocking to the audience, kicking the fear factor in the film up a notch just in time for a breathless cat and mouse climax. It's to the director's credit that this sequence proves effective despite some of his heroine's stereotypically illogical decisions, Swank keeping Juliet believably resilient and resourceful even when she's running into walls and stumbling about in the dark. The chase does go on a little too long, but at least Jokinen has the self-assurance to do away with unnecessary wrapping up, even if his abrupt ending leaves one major character's fate a little unclear. Overall, The Resident is a solid step in the right direction for Hammer, being an archetypal genre piece made with care and some style, distinguished by solid acting from reliable leads. Here's hoping the imminent release of Wake Wood and their upcoming adaptation of The Woman In Black can see the rejuvenated studio continue to stake their claim for a place in horror-lovers' hearts.Reviewed on: 18 Mar 2011