SEAT AT THE BACK - SCRIBBLES! ~ Films on the Seat at the Back playlist right now: KIDS IN LOVE; JUNE; CURVE; WILD, BARELY LETHAL; GODDESS OF LOVE; THE VATICAN TAPES .. What a night in!

Saturday, 10 December 2011

THE RESIDENT (2011) ~ aka 'Through The Keyhole' aka 'Wherever I lay my ex-boyfriend, that's my home'


The Resident is one of the recent 'New Hammer' Hammer Film Productions, a run that started with the fan-dividing Beyond the Rave in 2008; the first Hammer film since 1980's George and Mildred - The Movie (a sub-par TV spin-off later adopted into the Hammer back catalogue, which may explain why Hammer died a death soon after). Beyond the Rave could have been the last Hammer movie for another 28 years, on the strength of the potential lifespan that an online serial about date-biting vampires has. It could have been the quickest stake through the comeback kid's heart imaginable. Which isn't to say that Beyond the Rave wasn't a bold experiment in movie-making for a modern audience.

Thankfully, the head honchos at Hammer woke up and smelt the black roses, and the most famous and beloved of all film studios for so many of us loyal fans came up good and nasty again with Let Me In in 2010, a really decent remake of Let The Right One In - which was a hard if not impossible act to follow. Hammer had one ace card up its sleeve with Let Me In with the casting of young Chloe Moretz as the vampire 'girl' Abby, turning in a mesmerising and quite endearing performance. A star already in the making, Hammer latched on to all that was upcoming and cool in a cast, including Codi Smit-McPhee as young Owen, and gave us one of the best horror films of that year, despite not quite matching the original.

The paganish wickerish witchery of Wake Wood followed in 2011, bringing dead kids back from the grave very ungratefully in a rather wonderful scary movie that perhaps suffers from feeling like an extended good and eerie episode of the old Hammer House of Horror TV series - but for some of us, that's maybe all we ever wanted. The Resident followed soon after. Next year though it's the really big one - the moment we all find out whether the film studio has the guts to survive, as a little wizard gets to replace the traditional Hammer resident witch when Harry Potter star Daniel Radcliffe gives us his very best 'concerned and flabbergasted' look as Arthur Kipps in an adaptation of Susan Hill's classic and wonderfully woeful bestseller, The Woman In Black. Hang on, I think I just left out my review of The Resident. Quick - it's time for a fast rewind (see this movie and you'll know what I'm talking about)....

The Resident isn't a classic of the genre (although it is rather nice guilty pleasure). The genre I'm referring to here is the one, you know, that features: crazy old landlords with a secret or two, killer female flat-sharers walking around in babydolls and the archetypal 'strange noises from behind the neighbour's door' moment. It's a blueprint I love; from Psycho to Single White Female all the up to those Pacific Heights. I was prepared to love this new entry too. In the end, I only quite liked it - but also felt a bit cheated as the film was astoundingly lazy in its plotting, suspense, and - with a few exceptions - direction. Cheap thrills all round really. But then, Hammer was always very good at that. Cheap thrills - but those that lasted. From people that really cared. Films good enough to last the distance and inspire a film studio's revival decades later. This film is already being threatened with a sell-by date. It wouldn't inspire a Mad Hatter's tea party - if this movie were the Mad Hatter the dear chap would go home after watching the rushes and take up drinking coffee in Starbucks long before he held another of those damn parties of his.

The director of this movie, Antti Jokinen, has no previous movies to his name, but does, it seem, have a credit for once directing a segment of the Eurovision Song Contest. You know, in the world of movies, there's a moment when suddenly all warning bells start to ring. I think reading that fact could have been my moment, had I read first and watched second. Jokinen has no real sense of thrill, beyond a hidden face suddenly looming out of the shadows at you. Still, this is all quite fun for a while, until we get loads of shots of faces looming out of the shadows at you - or so it feels. Suddenly, there's a point where it's not so much fun - and just a bit silly.

Hilary Swank stars as New York nurse Juliet Devereau, recently split with her boyfriend and ready to find an apartment on her own. She chooses one where Christopher Lee lives - well, come on! There's stupid, and then there's stupid. This is stupid. Christopher Lee plays August, the wise but a bit weird grandad of Max, the owner of the 'still being built but rooms going cheap' apartment building that Juliet moves in to. Before long, naive ol' Juliet starts sleeping heavily, taking endless showers - and however pleasant it may be to see the lovely Hilary Swank naked in the bathroom, believe me, the effect soon wears off with repetition - and pretty soon the poor girl starts getting the feeling that someone is in the room with her. She really should have checked under the bed - that would be the first place I'd look. There's a nicely unexpected moment when her attempted smooch with the landlord Max is rejected by him, but pretty soon after that he's climbing into her bed anyway. Tsk - men, what are they like?

Juliet decides she misses 'the smell' of her ex-boyfriend, which gives hope for all smelly men and ex-boyfriends everywhere, and Max is bye bye. But who is the weirdo looking through, and going through, her keyhole (not a euphemism) as well as creeping around her like he's in a very childish game of cat and mouse that goes on way too long because he doesn't know when to stop? Is it August, the mild-mannered but obviously sexually frustrated grandad? Is it Max, the mild-mannered but obviously a bit too keen for Juliet to move in and take a shower or a bath, have a sauna, jacuzzi, take a swim or sunbathe on the carpet twice a day, landlord? Or is it the mild-mannered and frankly seriously underdeveloped character of Jack, the ex-boyfriend with the blink or you'll miss him appearances (all two of them)?

The underusage of Jack is forgiveable; he's about as interesting a character as the paint drying on Juliet's apartment walls. But to underuse Christopher Lee and have his scene-stealing appearances so brief and random, is criminal and deserving of a big fat stake through the heart. Although, clearly, Mr Lee is looking quite frail these days, it may well be that he was unable to shoot more scenes than he did. Just when it looks like things are going down the all too predictable route, there's a moment of jaw-dropping what-the-heckness when the present day 'does a Tardis' in a fairly well executed 'got ya there, didn't I?' scene, that is either really stupid and tacky - or a work of genius. I'm still thinking about it. We know who the sexed-up loon tune is now; what he wants and how he's doing it.
Frankly, that's where the movie should almost have ended. But the guy keeps on doing what he's doing until the end credits hurry on and wave us away about 45 minutes later. The ending is ludicrous and brief - way too brief. There's also no 'what happened next' to tie things up nicely as the film screams out to have, just one final moment of sub-standard shock and everyone goes home for pastrami and bagels.

The end of the movie should have been this: a good few months later, and Nurse Juliet is talking to the formerly pregnant nurse friend of hers who has now had her baby. They talk. Nurse Juliet is told that she 'must be very happy too' as the camera pans down to look at at her baby bump. 'Not really' she says. 'Jack wasn't able to give me a baby...he was impotent'. If you've seen the movie, you'll get this. You'll love my ending much more than Antti's. How can you not? Antti didn't give us an ending. So, there - you can have my one instead!

I sound like I'm on a downer about this movie, but I'm really not. I did enjoy all that watching through keyholes and peeping through bright slits in the door at all the New Yorkian weirdness taking place. It's my kind of movie. Perfect popcorn for a rainy day or blustery winter's night. It's a quick fix for those of us who still miss the full fix of Single White Female. Hilary Swank is really very good in this film, but she's hardly stretched, and she's not Jennifer Jason Leigh (OK, not exactly Hilary Swank's fault that one) but she gets close - and of course, the master himself; Christopher Lee, is both deeply unsettling and lovely as the sickly granddad. Or is he as lovely or as sickly as he seems? Watch the movie and find out! Once you find out, you can switch it off and do something else (just kidding!). There's also fairly good and gloomy, yellow-tinted or suddenly brash and bright cinematography from the much respected Guillermo Navarro (The Devil's Backbone and Pan's Labyrinth) and a poundingly good score from equally respected composer John Ottman (The Usual Suspects). But their efforts are wasted; there's more going through the motions here (script, acting, general vibe) than a cuddly raccoon with rapidly clearing constipation (relevance of that analogy to anything in this movie: zero).

That's the problem. Single White Female did something different nearly every frame. The Resident tends to echo itself out of classic thriller contention, despite trying to experiment with originality at infrequent times.

Another turn-off for me with this movie rears it's head (or liver) at the start when we get a fairly pointless scene of graphic open surgery. Yuk! A few sliding around organs getting emergencily stapled: heart; liver; kidney; pancreas - I don't know which, there were lots of organs slipping around in that opened up torso and being fiddled with by Nurse Juliet and all inner organs look kind of the same to me in the movies. I'm no surgeon - but I've also never seen a film yet that also has long bloody scenes of close-up open surgery (usually stock footage) in it, that didn't turn me off big time and make the film 'not one of my favourites'. Maybe it's just me, but I always kind of feel that the inclusion of surgical footage - faked or not, always kills a good film dead. It's like a cheap shot, and boring - unless you are a medical student. Then it's a veritable holiday on the buses. And talking of Holiday on the Buses; wasn't the movie version one of Hammer's biggest hits? Forget the horror stuff - Reg Varney splitting his trousers in front of a bus full of nubile young dinner ladies always drags in the right punters!

The only real surprise in The Resident; the only time the ongoing echo dragging the film down, suddenly fades out, is the frankly bloody weird fast rewind special effect in the middle of it all, that made me think my DVD player was on the blink - or just couldn't take any more scenes of Hilary Swank in the nuddy and was rewinding the movie before taking it back to the video rental shop like in the good old days of VHS. Maybe it wanted to watch those scenes again in old-fashioned slowmo. Without the sexiness, the film would - actually - be a lot less fun. But so much of Swank's skinny-dipping is so obviously a body double doing it, that it's all a bit stupid. Oh, and a DVD player that thinks it's a VHS player - talk about a mixed-up kid! But no - the fast rewind isn't a disc error or decision of the director's part to scrap the movie and start again; it was all part of the plot, and we now get to watch half the movie again but with all the shots of Hilary Swank in the nuddy from another person's - the pervert's - perspective. Oh joy!

By now you may have guessed that some of this film opens itself up to ridicule - like a torso opens itself up for surgery - from cheap shot reviewers like I'm fast becoming; which doesn't mean it's not fun. Come on - of course it is! I'm loving this movie deep down. I wouldn't be writing about it if I didn't like it. And I can't begin to tell you how excited I am that HAMMER FILMS are back making movies - and good ones too. But then all the fun and games and random silliness of this film is totally spoilt - TOTALLY spoilt - by the lack of a proper ending other than (and close your eyes now if you don't want to know what happens in a written description of this aforementioned, dodgy market stall-style unmedically graded and totally rushed bad ending): 'Bang bang you're dead, no you're not, bang - yes you are'.

A film without a good ending is like a flat without a tenant - or a bathroom without a hole in the wall for a weirdo to peer through. That's why I wrote my own. I was that fed up. It's like the film lover's equivalent of the Tesco self-serve tills. If the people running the place can't do it for you - then damn well do it yourself.

words: mark gordon palmer

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