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August 2011

The Resident

cast: Hilary Swank, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Lee Pace, Christopher Lee, and Aunjanue Ellis

director: Antti Jokinen

91 minutes (15) 2010
widescreen ratio 2.35:1
Icon DVD Region 2

RATING: 6/10
review by Andrew Darlington

The Resident

In what sense is this a 'Hammer' movie? It must be one, 'cos it says so in the credits. It says so on the DVD box. And, yes, Christopher Lee is present, if briefly, and underused. It could be argued he forms the continuity-loop back to the great days of 'the studio that dripped blood', but then again, wasn't he in Star Wars, and Lord Of The Rings, too? - Both of which lie well outside the productions of Hammer. Better maybe to ignore the tag, not look for links, and just consider this Hitchcockian psycho-thriller on its own not-inconsiderable merits.

There are no Gothic mansions. The opening ferro-concrete urban-skyscraper collage credit-sequence establishes the location as Manhattan. There are nicely-paced lushly-painted New York street-scenes with yellow cabs and passing rabbis. Juliet (Hilary Swank) is an A&E medic. She came to New York with partner Jack, but when she found him frolicking in their bed with someone else, she cuts out. Scanning the real estate small-ads for an apartment of her own, she says "I can't afford this," as she's shown round the expansive en-suite. "It's $38," he tells her. She asks "What's the catch..?"

Alarm! She should trust that gut-response. Of course there's a catch, more so than the rattling 'F'-line subway train hurtling beneath. A catch that gradually becomes menacingly obvious as she moves in. It's an old family brownstone run by helpful charming Max (Jeffrey Dean Morgan), who she initially fancies. And his grumpy grandfather, August (Christopher Lee), who greets her by demanding "are you loud?" So when there are mysterious sounds in the night, it's the oldster you suspect. The room shakes. Her glass of red wine shatters, spilling like blood on the bathroom floor, in an omen of nastiness to come. And someone is spying on her from a secret peep-hole as she takes a bath. Nevertheless, she meets Max at the art-opening of a trendy gallery, as if by accident. They have dinner together. Things are going fine until he moves in for the clinch, and she pulls back. Not ready yet for new intimacy. He might be Mr Nice Guy, but he's not good with rejection.

The deliberate nice-nasty misdirection isn't allowed to persist. A rapid flashback sequence reveals the set-up. Max had already spotted Juliet earlier, while taking August into A&E following a stroke. He noted her name-tag, her looking-for-an-apartment ad, tacked to the notice-boards. It's him, spying on her from a network of wall-cavity crawl-spaces, it's him creepy-crawling into her room at night making pervy moves as she sleeps. He even uses her electric toothbrush, and gets into her bath for a furtive self-fumble. While August riles and needles him, "I know everything that goes on in this building. I know everything that goes on in your head," he accuses his weak-willed and repressed grandson. A home-movie style rewind, complete with newsprint clips suggest why he's screwed-up. Dad shot Mum. Then blasted himself...

Meanwhile Juliet's ex, Jack (Lee Pace), shows up intent on reconciliation. As they shag, evil 'Norman Bates'-like Max spies on them, seething with jealousy. Only their little dog, with its veterinary-bucket, sniffs out the bad stuff. Smiling Max cranks up his weirdness. Steals her nightdress and lies on the bed caressing it. Max attacks his rival, Jack, on the subway steps, and starts drugging Juliet's wine so she oversleeps as he lies under the bed, licking and sucking her dangling fingers. At one point she half-wakes from narcotic-sleep to find him raping her, he boosts her dose by injecting her in the toe. And lethally injects grandfather too. Exit Christopher Lee. A brooding charismatic presence, edited out too soon.

By now she's begun to suspect. She gets the hospital lab to analyse the needle-cap found in her room. It's Demerol. She gets security night-vision cameras fitted, wired into her computer, and sees the rape-footage. So far, it's slow-building... The Resident, despite its high-profile iPhones, is essentially a psychological thriller the way they used to make them. No splatter-gore or torture-porn, no titillating nudity (pity!). Yet the grim escalation holds your attention and gets you involved. Swank invokes your sympathy. Dean Morgan is convincingly transgressive.

There's a burst of nastiness when Max calls round coming on heavy. He goes for the syringe, but she stabs him with a laser-knife. Fighting fatigue, she checks her drugged-up bloodshot eyeballs in the mirror, he bursts through it. She escapes into the hidden warren of crawlspaces where she finds Jack's bloodied corpse. Hammer studios once operated a very successful line in bloodied corpses. But as she ventilates the perv to death with his own nail-gun, it's maybe best not to look for continuity links, and just judge this movie on its own merits. They're not inconsiderable. Gothic mansions are strictly retro. Vampires are now troubled photogenic super-cool high-school teens. This might just be the sensible way forward for the iconic regenerated Hammer studio.

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