With the “everything old is new” mentality of Hollywood today and the seemingly inexhaustible appetite of slickly packaged 70’s and 80’s nostalgia, it makes sense to resurrect the Hammer brand for the 21st century. Although their prime was the late fifties through the mid-sixties Hammer continued to enjoy a solid reputation well after the studio’s demise in the late 70’s. Films like The Horror of Dracula and The Curse of Frankenstein, largely dismissed by the critics of their time, are now counted as essential viewing for serious horror aficionados. To this day, Hammer’s distinct brand of British horror still wins it new fans. Like Dracula inevitably rising from whatever seemingly final grave he’d been laid to rest in, the resurrection of Hammer studios didn’t just make sense, it was inevitable.
Staying true to their classic horror roots, their first new theatrical film was Let Me In. A remake of the well-regarded Swedish film, Let the Right One In, this choice seemed to fit with both the existing Hammer legacy and the current remake trend. The resulting film didn’t exactly set the box office alight but nevertheless got a positive reception from both fans of the original and critics. Hammer seemed to be off to a strong start. With the release of their second new production, The Resident, on DVD and Blu-ray…well, at least their theatrical track record remains intact.
Spurned and driven from her home by an unfaithful husband, ER doctor Juliet (Hilary Swank) is on the hunt for a new apartment. After what seems like almost no effort on her part she finds the perfect new domicile: positively palatial in dimension, furnished, with a view of the Brooklyn bridge and bargain basement monthly rent (by NY standards, at least); that her landlord is the aloof, but nevertheless ruggedly handsome, Max (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) only helps to sweeten the pot. The only downside seems to be Max’s creepy, borderline invalid, grandfather August (Christopher Lee) who glowers creepily at Juliet in the hallway and leaves an awkward housewarming basket at her front door.
It isn’t long before Juliet gets the feeling that she’s being watched and not just by grumpy old men in the common areas of the building but in her own apartment. A low rumble shakes the bathroom while she’s in the tub and a sinister figure seems to lurk in the darkest shadows of her apartment. Juliet is being stalked, but by whom? Surly August? Handsome Max? Or how about her ex, Jack (Lee Pace), who mills about creepily watching the front of her building from across the street?
The opening scenes of The Resident seem to be setting up a mystery and while it’s not the most original premise in the world there’s certainly fertile ground from which to mine the story for a decent thriller. Then, almost as if the filmmakers got tired of trying to establish a mystery and said: “Fuck it; let’s just do our big reveal at the thirty minute mark and get it over with.” Yes, the mystery is totally revealed at the end of the first act.
If you’re truly interested in the solution to this extremely low key mystery, don’t worry; all will be revealed sooner rather than later. In fact, I’ll tell you now: Max is stalking in her. In fact, in a level of Machiavellian scheming bordering on the preternatural, he manipulated circumstances to ensure that Juliet moved into his building. Usually I’d be reticent to reveal the twist in so recent a movie but if the film doesn’t hold keeping it secret in high regard I don’t see why I should be held to a higher standard.
From that point on, the movie tries to build a different type of suspense where we know what the characters don’t. The problem is that simply the film hasn’t given us any reason to care. The movie has spent so much time trying to establish its creaky plot mechanics that the main characters are barely developed. Compounding the problem is that the film has brazenly shown the audience that it’s not going to play fair and is willing to arbitrarily pull the rug out from under them for cheap effect; it’s hard to get terribly invested in a film like that.
If all these narrative gymnastics weren’t enough to make the film a jumbled mess, after the big reveal the movie takes a left turn into sleazetown with an icky, uncomfortable subplot in which Swank is drugged and raped on a nightly basis. It’s so wildly out of place and inconsistent with the tone the movie establishes in its opening scenes it doesn’t even feel like you’re watching the same movie. And, of course, Juliet is too dim to figure out what’s going on even though she’s a doctor and should be familiar with the symptoms of sedation. The script does have some token lines of dialogue setting each instance days or weeks apart but the film is extraordinarily bad at establishing the passage of time. The whole movie takes place over the span of months but it races from scene to scene so fast that it seems like its set in matter of days. There’s simply too much that we’re told, not shown and the film rockets from scene to scene with nary any regard for pace, mood or suspense. It’s seems like the movie can’t wait to be over. By the end, the audience will likely feel the same way.
I love Hilary Swank. I know a lot of people don’t. I’m not sure if they’re put off by her unconventional beauty, or her occasionally histrionic performances. I think she’s a fantastic actress…in the right role. Of all the multiple Oscar winning actors she’s probably one of the most limited in range. She struggles with period material and would feel awkward in Shakespeare, but cast her as a downtrodden, low income underdog and she taps reservoirs of emotion of extraordinary depth. She just has a down-to-earth charm and likable screen presence that helps obscure, and occasionally transcend, her limitations as an actress.
I’d actually really like to see Swank play an emergency room doctor. Writer/director Antti Jokinen doesn’t seem to have the foggiest clue as to what a doctor does while they’re at work - or what a woman living alone in New York would do for that matter. Swank’s behavior in her apartment plays more like a voyeuristic wet dream than the actions of a newly single woman living alone. She takes a lot of baths, traipses around half naked in front of wide open windows and spends an inordinate amount of time rubbing cream on her tight, tight abs. The film thus makes her character seem more like a sex object than a real person…which is exactly the crime of the villain in the film. I’m not going to get all moralistic and pretend that the medium as a whole isn’t just vicarious wish fulfillment for the audience. We go to see good looking people doing shit we wish we could do and that’s fine. But the moment you start to condemn a character for engaging in the same kind of behavior that you’re forcing the audience to engage in, it’s alienating and makes for an unpleasant experience. It would have been far more interesting to try and get the audience to identify with Max and make a statement about the voyeuristic nature of film, but that’s far beyond the ambition of this pedestrian production.
The Resident was supposed to help reestablish Hammer’s reputation as a relevant voice in 21st century horror films, and feeling completely like a holdover from the years of their decline. How appropriate, then, to see an elderly and shockingly frail-looking Christopher Lee in the film almost as an intentional avatar for Hammer itself. It’s sad to see the former titan reduced to a few lines of dialogue. He hovers around the edge of the frame, ostensibly to provide a sense of menace but achieving the complete opposite. Jeffery Dean Morgan, also a good actor, manages a pretty good aloof charm, but Max only feels like half a character. Most heartbreaking is Christopher Lee, again looking incredibly frail and reduced to what is essentially a walk on. His presence in the film only serves to underline the disparity in quality between his work during Hammer’s heyday and this would-be comeback vehicle.
Incidentally, I read the tie-in novel of The Resident before I saw the film. While tie-ins are usually cheap, poor quality cash-ins (and this was certainly no awards contender) the author was either working from an older, better draft of the screenplay or at least was afforded the opportunity to take some pretty drastic liberties with the story. The book still doesn’t quite work as a thriller, even given some fairly clever misdirection in the first hundred pages, but it serves as an illustration that even a mediocre story is better served by giving it a little room to breathe.
What we’re left with in the end is a slick looking film that never even seems cognizant of its potential. It has a tried and true formula, which it can’t even be bothered to develop into a very basic story, it’s got a talented cast that it leaves high and dry and it has a great location that isn’t used to any good effect. The Resident isn’t so bad that you’ll want to pull your hair out in frustration but any memory of its ninety minute running time will vacate your mind almost as soon as you hit “stop.”
The movie may be below par but the video presentation is definitely up to code. Scenes are drenched in red or green light without any video smearing. Detail is as strong in dimly lit scenes as it is during bright, daytime scenes. The contrast is a bit hot, with day scenes looking slightly blown out, while the darker areas of the screen in night scenes display a bit of crush. That’s a common stylistic choice fully in line with how films are processed today and not a knock on the transfer at all. It’s surprising that the video is so good considering the wear and tear the negatives must have undergone while the distributor was striking all those theatrical release prints. Oh, wait…
Like most modern direct to video features, far less attention has been paid to the audio mix that has been paid to the video. The front channels are strong but the 5.1 track is left vacant: there’s no real strong surround action, directionality or panning effect. Dialogue is always audible and the unmemorable score at least wisely never intrudes.
The Resident was shuffled off to direct-to-video limbo without any fanfare or even the most basic supplemental package being scraped together. It says a lot about a company’s faith in their product when they don’t even bother to throw a trailer and an EPK clip on the disc.
It’s pretty lame but The Resident isn’t a disastrous outing that’s going to have any measurable long term impact on the Hammer brand. The venerable Hammer name has weathered far worse efforts than The Resident. Let’s not kid ourselves here; a lot…and I mean a lot… of Hammer’s output during its ostensible “golden age” was pure shit. That we look back fondly on drivel such as the later Dracula films speaks not to the films themselves but to their place in the larger context of the Hammer legacy.
For a brief moment in time the revered British studio rode the cutting edge of horror… at least until the heaving bosoms and tasteful grue of their stage bound literary adaptations gave way to the gritty, hard edged realism of their American counterparts. I’d love as much as anybody to see Hammer return to its former glory but they’re not going to do it with tepid, cliché ridden potboilers like The Resident. Let Me In was a step in the right direction; The Resident is a huge step back. The decision to dump it straight to DVD, though, was a wise one.
I was looking forward to Christopher Lee being in a Hammer film again and was pretty disappointed by the result.
The short roles he has now are pretty much his choice. He no longer has the energy to support the filming of big roles. He said it himself in his holiday message:
But still, I have nothing but pure respect for the man. A true living legend.
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