The Resident: Film Review

Directed by: Antti Jokinen, Runtime: 90 minutes
Grade: C

Hilary Swank's previous venture in the horror genre came a few years after her Oscar-winning turn in Million Dollar Baby, where she didn't exactly set the world on fire in the neo-religious nosedive The Reaping. In hindsight, it should've been an anticipated blunder: Swank's more adept with hostile drama crammed within intimate scenarios, not with digital bugs and fire-'n-brimstone rumbling about. Something like Hammer Films' The Resident seems a comfier fit for the actress' poise, dropping her in the position of a single woman living in an eerie New York apartment that rouses suspicion with each creak and stir in its foundation. But with a shaky script hampered by wooden dialogue and one-dimensional characters, Swank again finds herself running through the horror genre's thorn bushes in this lumbering mood-heavy creeper.

The Resident plucks elements from Roman Polanski's The Tenant and Barbet Schroeder's Single White Female, with Swank playing Juliet, an attractive doctor fresh out of a divorce. After winding through the maze of New York apartments, stumbling onto stinker after overpriced stinker, she receives a call from someone regarding a vacancy that's, at the least, intriguing. When Juliet arrives at the place, she's in awe: it's an open-aired, wood-covered flat with tons of space, and at a price she's unable to pass up on. Even the space's landlord-owner Max (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) seems to be a gem, a trustworthy type full of amiable grins. Yet as Juliet's relationship with Max develops while she settles in to her new digs, and the neighbor down the hall (Christopher Lee) darts shifty eyes in her direction, she can't ignore the feeling that something seems off-kilter in the dimly-lit place -- like she's being watched.

First-time feature-length director Antti Jokinen realizes that the apartment's mood largely propels The Resident and its atmosphere, and he allows it to do so with nimble lighting and lucid, briskly-textured photography. Pan's Labyrinth cinematographer Guillermo Navarro captures the deceptive warmth of Juliet's new abode through scattered lights and comely corridors, which infuses a disquieting energy into the picture on a pure sensory level. Stray shots of Swank undressing and bathing provoke a level of intimacy while informing the picture with voyeuristic allure, double-backing to its femme-focused pivot points. There's no absence of that icky goosebump-inducing sensation that accompanies material about dark-corner stalkers, that's for sure, especially once the facts about the apartment come into focus.

What's missing is a grasp on Juliet as a distinct individual, instead defaulting to a generic feminine typecast going through the motions. Unfilled scripting and a sturdy but indistinct performance from Hilary Swank hold The Resident back from some of the aggressive energy it could've exerted, showing that it's more concerned with the provocative measures that an obsessive voyeur would undertake than the mental jarring that accompanies a fear of being watched -- or messed with against one's will. There's not much that separates Juliet from the likes of, say, Meg Ryan's character in City of Angels, a hesitant doctor with just the right amount of arm's length knowledge, and the film's rhythm suffers due to a lack of interest in both her state and her as an overall character. When Juliet receives messages from her wayward husband (Pushing Daisies' Lee Pace, but he's only in a handful of scenes) and impairs her judgment by guzzling down glasses of wine, The Resident lacks the suspense it should generate around a woman in danger.

Part of that resides in the film's structure, though, executed proficiently by Jokinen but lacking the fierceness it needs to combine intriguing storytelling and fidget-worthy tension. The Resident shows its cards early by revealing a second perspective on Juliet's apartment, which effectively morphs the energy from quasi-whodunit suspense to something similar to watching a predator stalk its prey. Once it does this, it mostly descends into a vat of nasty button-pushing that aims to unsettle the audience, aided immensely by Jeffrey Dean Morgan's convincing gruffness. And it does discomfort to an extent, but in a muddled, rushed haze that's more concerned with its own snaky skin-crawling than following through with a concise resolution to Juliet's story. At the least, it'll make you want to upgrade your home security ... and watch what you drink.

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