(2011) Directed by Antti Jokinen; Written by Antti Jokinen and Robert Orr; Starring: Hillary Swank, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Lee Pace, Aunjanue Ellis and Christopher Lee; Available on Blu-ray, DVD, and Hulu
“I know everything that goes on in this building. I know everything that goes on in your head. You think I don’t know how your brain works? Just like your father... Your mother, she was beautiful. She married a weak man. Then she gave birth to another.” – August (Christopher Lee)
A super-big thanks to Gill from ReelWeegieMidget Reviews and Cat from Thoughts All Sorts for hosting the Then and Now Blogathon, featuring a look at the work of our favorite classic actors in the past and present. My guest of honor is the late great Christopher Lee. You can read my recycled review of his “then” feature, Rasputin: The Mad Monk (1966) here. But what about “now” (or in this case, recent)? Why, I’m glad you asked, because my film du jour is The Resident (2011). Reviewing this film affords me the unique opportunity to examine a modern role from this amazing thespian, as well as look at a new Hammer production.
Hammer Films enjoyed a modicum of success in the1950s and 1960s, particularly in the horror genre, building a reputation for movies done on a shoestring budget, but always with an eye on quality. Hammer’s success was short-lived, however, as the company became increasingly cash strapped, productions became more threadbare, and the movies stopped coming by the mid-1970s. But the final nail had not been driven into Hammer’s coffin. After a decades-long absence, the Hammer name re-emerged in the 2000s, with new productions, starting with an English language remake of the Swedish film Let the Right One In (Let Me In) and The Resident, featuring Hammer stalwart Christopher Lee, and writer/director Antti Jokinen.
Dr. Juliet Devereau (Hillary Swank), recently separated from her husband, is on the market for a new place to live, but finding an affordable (well, for an MD at least) apartment in New York City is a Herculean task. After some trial and error, she locates what appears to be the ideal apartment, with an expansive view of the Brooklyn Bridge and a rental price that won’t break the bank. To sweeten the deal, her landlord is a single handsome guy who might just be a good candidate for boyfriend material while she’s on the rebound from her cheating husband. As any savvy consumer will tell you, however, if it looks too good to be true, it probably is. Strange things are afoot in her new apartment home, as she begins to suspect that her privacy is being invaded, and the landlord’s friendly overtures become a little too close for comfort.
Jeffrey Dean Morgan is very good as Juliet’s landlord Max, who may not be the nice guy he appears to be. He seems amiable at first, but as Juliet gradually discovers, there’s more about him, lurking beneath the surface. The good vibes begin to wear off as he loses patience with her ambivalence about entering a new relationship. The cracks in his perfect façade begin to form when she pulls away, and he starts taking things in uncomfortable directions, spying on her and making unexpected visits. Morgan takes us along for a disturbing ride as his character’s sanity erodes.
Christopher Lee does a lot with very little screen time As Max’s enigmatic grandfather August. Juliet is unsure how to interpret the elderly man, peering at her down the hall (his gift basket takes on ominous tones). From the audience’s perspective, we’re similarly perplexed about where he stands. But as we soon discover, neither August nor his grandson are what they may seem to be. August harbors a dark family secret, which manifests itself in Max. Aside from being a major selling point, Lee’s brief appearance is an essential bridge to the Hammer films of the past, serving as the film company’s spiritual ambassador of sorts. Even if he didn’t have a single line (and his lines are relatively scarce), Lee carries enough gravitas to make his character work.
The Resident falls into the same trap as many modern thrillers, counting on the main character doing stupid things to move the plot along. After a string of mornings in which she oversleeps, she has her blood analyzed, and learns there’s a cocktail of sedatives circulating in her bloodstream. Why she would return home after learning this disturbing information is anyone’s guess. Also, the film misses the opportunity to draw a parallel between her husband Jack’s obsessive behavior and Max’s growing paranoia. Despite Jack’s admission that he’s been stalking her, along with his constant phone calls, she decides to give him a second chance (Perhaps she concludes he’s slightly less creepy than her weird landlord?). Juliet installs a high-tech security system in her apartment, and then proceeds to ignore video records of the intrusions. When it finally dawns on her what’s occurring, nothing is ever reported (why she didn’t just dial 911 immediately is beyond me). Of course, the breach in security is another contrivance for the predictable cat and mouse game between Max and Juliet during the film’s climax.
As a contemporary thriller, The Resident is competent, if unremarkable. As a Hammer film, that’s another story. It lacks the gothic atmosphere of many of Hammer’s best horror/thriller movies, or maybe it was the paucity of English accents, but it didn’t have that signature Hammer “feel.”. As I watched the movie, it occurred to me the story could have easily been transplanted to a manor in the English countryside – the New York setting doesn’t suit a Hammer production. Faults aside, The Resident proves nothing with Christopher Lee can be a total loss. Lee makes up for the lack of quantity screen time with a quality supporting performance. If only the rest of the film could measure up.