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Tuesday, March 29, 2011

THE RESIDENT -- DVD review by porfle

After watching Hammer Films' THE RESIDENT (2011), I wondered how they could possibly make a trailer for it without giving everything away.  But sure enough, they managed to stick one together, mainly by showing just a bunch of hands and feet.  Too bad I can't show just a bunch of hands and feet in my review, because sometimes it's hard to stick one of these things together and remain 100% spoiler-free, especially when the big reveal occurs before the movie's even half over.

Not that it's any mind-boggling twist or anything, but this modern Gothic-tinged tale of madness and obsession does have us guessing at first who the crazy person is going to turn out to be.  Hilary Swank plays Juliet Devereau, an ER doctor fresh out of a bad break-up and moving into one of those spacious old too-good-to-be-true Brooklyn apartments on her own.  The landlord, Max (Jeffrey Dean Morgan, WATCHMEN), seems like a really nice guy, but is he really crazy? 

Max's creepy, decrepit old granddad, August (Hammer legend Christopher Lee), seems crazy--does this mean he's really sane?  And what about Juliet's ex, Jack (Lee Pace), who keeps trying to get Juliet to return his calls and even seems to be stalking he crazy?  Or is Juliet the crazy one, and we're getting the old dipsy-doodle pulled on us?

Whoever the nut is, Juliet's big, spooky apartment (which looks like it was decorated by Dario Argento) is a voyeur's dream, with peepholes in every electrical outlet and secret passages behind every wall.  Everything makes some kind of unsettling noise and shadows hover around every dark corner, and it doesn't take long for Juliet to get the sneaking feeling she's being watched.  Often the camera puts us right in the peeper's POV, inviting us to peer at the semi-nude or naked Juliet (Hilary Swank actually looks sexy in this movie) and reminding us how vulnerable she is. 

As you might guess, a romantic spark eventually flares between Juliet and Max just as Jack shows up hoping for a reconciliation.  And enigmatic old August is always peeking through his doorway, watching all.  We already know Juliet's in danger, and we begin to suspect that she's not the only one.  The script isn't rocket science or anything, but so far it's one of those familiar, old-fashioned woman-in-peril creepers that keeps you comfortably involved as you settle in and wait for things to get progressively spooky. 

It's around this time that the film does something interesting--it whips us back to the beginning of the story and reveals something to us that skews the whole thing in a new and disturbing way.  This is the surprise reveal I was referring to earlier, and at this point I can't really say much more except that this new revelation ratchets things up in a big way, setting the stage for the terror to come.

Finally, Juliet makes a shattering (and really icky) discovery in the latter part of the story which, for me, is pretty much the film's climax.  After this creepy-crawly shock, THE RESIDENT degenerates into the standard, prolonged cat-and-mouse sequence that one comes to expect (and dread) from this kind of thriller when it doesn't really know how to end. 

Once the plot has been resolved to a certain degree, then, as far as I'm concerned, endless attempts to drag out the action and suspense become tiresome.  Worst of all, there's even the obligatory "he's dead...he's not dead" thing that should've been retired after the first "Chucky" movie.  While the ending didn't totally wreck the movie for me or anything, it does lower it to the level of the more mundane and cliche-ridden entries in this genre. 

The film itself is well directed by Antti Jokinen and attractively photographed, with atmospheric production design and a rich, shadowy look that does seem a bit Argento-like at times.  The cast is good (look for "Deep Space Nine" vet Nana Visitor in a tiny role as a real estate agent), although to me Hilary Swank's performances often seem to waver between being assured and awkward.  At any rate, I've never seen a director more capably evoke her unusual sex appeal.

The DVD from Image Entertainment is in 2.35:1 widescreen with Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound.  Subtitles are in English and Spanish.  A trailer is the sole extra.

THE RESIDENT doesn't re-invent the "lone woman menaced by nutcase in spooky old apartment" tale, but it's a pretty entertaining example of it.  I just wish the writers could've re-invented the stock ending that causes so many of these yarns to fizzle out instead of going out with a bang.  

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