Review: BAD THINGS A Flat Thriller

Bad Things
Image via Tribeca Film Festival

We originally reviewed Bad Things when it screened at the Tribeca Film Festival earlier this year. It is set to premier on the Shudder streaming service today.

It is hard to watch any movie set in a haunted hotel and not draw comparisons to the granddaddy of the genre, Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining. And yet no matter how hard one tries to banish that comparison while watching writer/director Stewart Thorndike’s Bad Things, it is virtually impossible to do as the movie seems to be so actively courting parallels. And it does not come out looking for the better because of those similarities.

Twentisomething Ruthie (GLOW‘s Gayle Rankin) has inherited an old, closed hotel from her recently deceased grandmother. Although she is leaning towards selling it – despite the fact that she often surreptitiously watches YouTube videos about hotel management – Ruthie invites her girlfriend and two other friends to spend a weekend in the deserted place. Tensions rise as a snow storm make getting back home increasingly difficult, Ruthie starts dodging texts from her nearly estranged mother and one of the group starts to see spectral visions of guests who may have died at the location in years past. Is there something really haunting the hotel, or are their imaginations getting the better of them? And what is the dark secret from her past about the hotel is Ruthie hiding from the others as well as herself?

Even from the short synopsis, it is difficult to not see similarities with The Shining – A small group trapped by a snow storm in a hotel. Someone sees ghosts, two of whom are spooky twins. Lots of running around at the end as someone is looking to hack the others to pieces. It is almost as if Thorndike is going down a checklist, making sure certain elements are in play in the script. And while I could almost excuse a blatant riff of The Shining if they were using the tropes to do something interesting with the characters, they’re not. Thorndike’s handling of the four main characters here – all of whom who are LGBTQ – is somewhat lackluster. None of the quartet have very much depth, though Ruthie has a shade more than the other three. The quartet all seem to be mad at each other for various things from the first frame of the film until the last. And if they don’t apparently like each other all that much, I am not sure how I am to care about what happens to any of them.

Directorially, Bad Things also doesn’t work well. The pacing is fairly slow and it takes a while for the film to build up to what little narrative momentum it has. What should be a slow boil barely reaches the level of a simmer. Many of Thorndike’s scenes have odd staging and any time a character gets a text message on their phone, it is shot in a way that makes it difficult for the audience to read the screen. Thorndike doesn’t establish the geography of the hotel, making it near impossible to follow the action as it moves through the facility, especially with Thorndike’s penchant to abruptly end scenes and skip forward to the next setup hours later and in another location. Additionally, the exterior of the hotel is a large windowless structure at odds with the interior rooms and common spaces of the hotel where we see all have windows. It is a distracting disconnect that works to further take us out of the film.

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About Rich Drees 7124 Articles
A film fan since he first saw that Rebel Blockade Runner fleeing the massive Imperial Star Destroyer at the tender age of 8 and a veteran freelance journalist with twenty-five years experience writing about film and pop culture. He is a member of the Philadelphia Film Critics Circle.
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