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“Bad Things,” writer/director Stewart Thorndike’s sophomore feature, is a queer reinterpretation of Stanley Kubrick’s classic “The Shining.” Ruthie (Gayle Rankin) is the inheritor of the Comely Suites, a suburban, snowy hotel passed down by her mother. Ruthie’s relationship with her mother is fraught, and her connection to the hotel is equally traumatic.
When she brings her girlfriend Cal (Hari Nef) and coupled friends Maddie (Rad Pereira) and Fran (Annabelle Dexter-Jones) for a weekend getaway, the influence of the hotel, and their isolation within it, becomes oppressive. Bad things happen in the Comely Suites, and between Ruthie’s teetering disposition, Fran’s neuroticism, and underlying seeds of doubt, envy, and anger between the group, the friends find themselves at the mercy of various volatile influences.
Thorndike’s film wears its inspiration on its sleeve, from the snowed-in hotel linked to a seemingly inevitable descent into madness to a scene across the hotel bar. And “Bad Things” is something of reinvention, with male patriarchal madness turned to traumatic female rage and family units spun into the intersection of relationships and friendship. But Thorndike's high-magnitude, cherished concept just never fulfills its potential.
Where the central four characters' friendship and intersecting romantic relationships are meant to be the film’s grounding center, there's nothing but flimsy connections and dead air. There’s no chemistry between the characters and no genuine feeling in their performances. Their friendship is far from believable, and, as the core of the film’s tension, this failure leaves “Bad Things” lacking emotional investment in its stakes.
Ruthie’s relationship with her mother plays out over unanswered texts and vague mentions, and a history of infidelity tarnishes her relationship with Cal. But every scattered seed of personal history isn’t given the support from the script that allows them to grow into worthwhile inclusions. Ruthie is aloof and angry, and that’s pretty much it. With a script that begs us to give in to her plight, her character is simply too flat to inspire any interest. The trauma plot, which feeds the film's subtext, is a bit cherry-picked. It comes across as an addition to give the film a semblance of deeper meaning rather than a truly thoughtful exploration of pain’s resilient ties to time and place.
The look of “Bad Things” is its strongest element. Its cinematography is cold and clinical, harshly objective compared to the hotel's sometimes surrealist resonance and elusive layout. The entirety of the space is explored, from the pool to cluttered ballrooms and stark placeless rooms. It effectively becomes a character responsible for the eerie, unsettling tone.
“Bad Things” juggles too many elements with too little focus. It plays out like a waiting game, with a pace that stumbles through its 84-minute runtime with plenty of hollow conversations and a few teases of tension. The relationships meant to hold the film together are floss-bound and flimsy, and the peeks into character histories are thrown away as quickly as they’re mentioned. “Bad Things” is thoughtful as a concept—a ruminant queer and female-forward reinvention of a familiar tale. But by the time any emotional upheaval and bloodshed have paid off, the film has already fatigued itself and its audience.
Now playing on Shudder.
Gayle Rankin as Ruthie Nodd
Hari Nef as Cal
Annabelle Dexter-Jones as Fran
Rad Pereira as Maddie
Jared Abrahamson as Brian
Molly Ringwald as Miss Auerbach