bad things 2023 movie review
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Picture “The Shining” (1980), but instead of being set in The Overlook Hotel, it unfolds within the mundane, oppressively beige Comley Suites, resembling the standard surroundings of a Best Western or Holiday Inn. Swap the nuclear family plagued by an alcoholic father possessed by malevolent spirits with a mentally fragile member of a queer friend circle grappling with supernatural forces that exacerbate her mommy issues. If you can visualize that, you’re getting a glimpse of what to anticipate from “Bad Things,” writer-director Stewart Thorndike’s feminist response to Stanley Kubrick’s iconic creation. The film brings forth a wintry backdrop, eerie twins (now two models who perished while jogging from exposure rather than axe-wielding youngsters), and a deep-rooted lore surrounding five deaths at the hotel over three decades. Yet, it falls short of the masterfully symbolic, labyrinthine quality that inspired its inception. Though Thorndike’s promising cast and frequently campy vibe might win some admirers, at a mere 85 minutes, it struggles to gain traction before the closing credits roll.

Leading the cast is Gayle Rankin from Netflix’s “GLOW” as Ruthie, a young woman who arrives at her late grandmother’s hotel to prepare it for an impending sale. Her girlfriend Cal (Hari Nef) accompanies her, hoping for a proposal despite their relationship facing turbulence due to Ruthie’s recent affair with Fran (Annabelle Dexter-Jones). For reasons unknown, Ruthie allows their friend Maddie (Rad Pereira) to bring Fran along, seemingly as a companion for Maddie. Fran, however, harbors her own issues, including possibly fabricated cancer treatments for attention. The purpose of the trip and the tasks required to ready the hotel are frustratingly unclear, with Thorndike’s script omitting any definite objectives. This lack of narrative drive renders the plot rather hollow. Nevertheless, interpersonal drama takes precedence, particularly given the hotel’s spook-infested aura.

Predictably, the group begins to encounter eerie signs of specters, including manifestations tied to Ruthie’s traumatic childhood experiences—like her mother abandoning her at the cold hotel for three days without sustenance, causing her to almost lose three fingers to frostbite. Moreover, another haunting presence is Ruthie’s disturbed mother, who texts her daughter repeatedly, professing love. Ruthie remains evasive about her mother with the others, often shutting down any conversations on the topic. Her erratic behavior encompasses fixating on a video of a business guru (Molly Ringwald) delivering a TED Talk on hospitality, pursuing Fran, and reacting strongly to Brian (Jared Abrahamson)—a maintenance worker ostensibly tasked with fixing a pool. These dynamics might carry more weight if the hotel possessed more character, but it’s no more than an airport-adjacent franchise in terms of atmosphere.

Thorndike’s second feature follows her 2014 debut, “Lyle,” where Gabby Hoffmann and Ingrid Jungermann portrayed a lesbian couple, with the former suspecting their neighbors were part of a Satanic cult akin to “Rosemary’s Baby” (1968). Her career thus far seems focused on reimagining classic horror films with LGBTQ+ women characters, an admirable endeavor. Nonetheless, witnessing the filmmaker tackle original concepts would be even more intriguing, particularly as homage naturally invites comparison. Regrettably, “Bad Things” is marred by an inadequate sense of spatial context, whereas “The Shining” meticulously detailed the hotel’s layout only to disrupt the viewer’s understanding later on. The inconsistency here, such as Ruthie using a chainsaw to clear a fallen tree on the road, implying seclusion, while the ending hints at a nearby strip mall, doesn’t stem from the engaging puzzle-solving seen in Kubrick’s film but rather from Thorndike’s and her editors’ perplexing execution.

The film’s disparate narrative threads seldom converge satisfyingly, and the characters’ actions lack emotional and motivational clarity. The cast does their best, but they’re unable to breathe life into the underdeveloped scenarios or roles. Consider Fran’s inconsistent portrayal. She oscillates from proclaiming to Ruthie, “I am here to save you,” to suddenly being left at a train station with an infected leg and requiring medical attention—seemingly abandoned by her friends without explanation. Additionally, Fran appears disproportionately affected by the hotel’s apparitions, which might stem from her unsettling presence causing turmoil between Ruthie and Cal. Meanwhile, Cal and Maddie remain largely sidelined. To be certain, Ruthie is the film’s Jack Torrance, as her emotional state magnifies the hotel’s supernatural disturbances for the other inhabitants.

After premiering at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival, “Bad Things” was picked up for release on Shudder, where horror enthusiasts may attempt to unravel its mysteries. Thorndike states in the press notes that the film centers on motherhood, serving as “a celebration of this primal relationship’s blurry and intricate nature.” Considering the film’s absent mother figure, one may question how much of “Bad Things” actually unfolds. Much of it seems to occur in Ruthie’s psyche, enabling certain ambiguities to be conveniently attributed to the delusions of a tormented protagonist. However, unlike Kubrick’s meticulous snow-covered footprints, Thorndike leaves the viewer without clear guidance to follow; her film meanders freely, which may be her intention, yet it fails to engross with the taut tension needed to captivate. While the homage offers a pointed feminist juxtaposition accentuating aesthetic and representational disparities, standing alone, the experience feels underdeveloped and unsatisfying.

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By acinetv