THE RESIDENT (2011) is an exploitative, voyeuristic embarrassment that wastes a great cast

#31DaysOfHorror: October 16

This October, I’ll be reviewing 31 horror movies in 31 days! You can see the ongoing list of what I’ve watched and reviewed here.

The Plot

Dr. Juliet Devereau (Hilary Swank) needs a new place to live, because she’s just left Jack (Lee Pace), her ex. Luckily, she finds a cheap apartment run by the charming Max (Jeffrey Dean Morgan), a handsome, handy landlord who Juliet finds herself attracted to. He’s attracted to her, too, which is why he crawls around behind the walls and watches her while she sleeps…

My Review

On some level, the vast majority of horror movies are voyeuristic. There is something about the genre that lends itself to stories about people being watched, whether it’s by a ghost, a killer in the woods, or someone peering through a peephole from the room next door. And, of course, we in the audience are watching the characters on screen as they undress, have sex, and are murdered for it, and horror often wants to make us feel a little bit bad about that.

The Resident, though, takes this too far and doesn’t use its concept in service of anything except exploitation. The Shudder description for this movie describes it as “Hitchcockian.” Sure, in a way — this movie is the scene in Psycho where Norman Bates looks through the peephole at Marion Crane in her hotel room, but, stretched out to feature length. It’s uncomfortable, and grotesque, and twisted, and it doesn’t have a single interesting thing to say or a single unique, memorable setpiece.

For the much of the first act, The Resident plays like a romance. Hilary Swank’s Juliet Devreau is an ER doctor looking for a new place to live, after she’s just broken up with an ex. Jeffrey Dean Morgan’s Max is a landlord who just happens to have a cheap apartment, and it doesn’t hurt that he’s broad-shouldered and handsome, just the kind of guy Juliet needs. They know each other mostly from seeing each other around the building at first, but one day when they both show up at the same art gallery opening, sparks start to fly.

They sit on a bench overlooking the Brooklyn Bridge and sip their coffees while Juliet tells Max about her childhood. She explains that she used to go for walks late at night and look through people’s windows, at families gathered around television sets, wishing she had that kind of love in her life but knowing she never would. The chemistry between the two actors is undoubtedly strong; the way they both keep missing each other’s glances and then finally making eye contact is very romantic.

On their first real date, Juliet and Max keep just missing eye contact, until finally, their eyes meet.

Then, a few days later, they have dinner. It’s lovely and they stare longingly at each other and then he leaves, but she follows him into the hall and, wordlessly, he knows what she wants. He goes back into her apartment and they start to make out… and the movie rewinds back to the beginning, showing us events from his perspective. We realize that he spotted her at the hospital one day and inserted himself into her life, offering her the apartment to draw her close… and then, we’re shown that he’s been watching her the whole time from the other side of the walls.

Because of course.

From there, the movie descends into madness. But, it’s not exciting enough madness to be worthwhile. It’s just repetitive. It gets late; she goes to bed; he comes out of the wall and sits there and stares at her. Sometimes he crawls under the bed and caresses the hand draped over the side of the bed. Sometimes he licks it. Sometimes he watches her shower, and sometimes he watches her take a bath, and sometimes he watches her as she’s cooking dinner. She starts to speak with her ex (the woefully underused Lee Pace) again, and soon he’s coming over for dinner, and Max watches that too, jealously. A few times he’s almost caught in bed with one of her dresses, or masturbating in her tub, but he always slips back behind the walls before he’s found out.

What frustrates me most about The Resident is that it wastes a great cast. Hilary Swank is a talented actress, and she does the best she can with the material here, but until the knock-down, drag-out fight that makes up the majority of the film’s final act, she doesn’t really have much to work with. Instead, the film just feels exploitative; she’s asked to walk around for a significant number of scenes wrapped in just a towel, jumping at noises and feeling like she’s being watched. She spends many of the other scenes laying passed-out in a bed, drugged, while Jeffrey Dean Morgan stares at her and caresses her body.

Jeffrey Dean Morgan, too, is an extremely charismatic actor. His work on The Good Wife proved that; just check out Kristen Warner and Kelli Marshall’s appreciation of Jason Crouse for evidence. They point to Crouse’s (i.e. Morgan’s) “commanding masculinity” and highlight his “glasses, hair, beard, and smile” as focus points for his attractiveness, noting that The Good Wife often frames him in “medium shots and close-ups, with lighting that almost always accentuates the qualities [they] cited above.” His character doesn’t wear glasses in The Resident, but the other three characteristics are all on full display, also often in medium shots and close-ups, lit in ways that in other movies would position him as a desirable romantic counterpart to Swank’s self-assured doctor.

As Jason Crouse on The Good Wife morphed into Negan on The Walking Dead, both roles overlapping by a few weeks, JDM’s charisma and commanding masculinity become more sinister and perverted as the movie progresses. After we realize that those kind eyes are the ones watching, leering, at her through the walls, the same sorts of shots become threatening and menacing.

This would all be thematically interesting, if the filmmakers understood that they have a great foil to JDM’s brand of masculinity in Juliet’s other romantic rival Jack, played by Lee Pace. Pace, best known as Ned the Piemaker on Bryan Fuller’s cult hit Pushing Daisies, is in many ways the antithesis of JDM’s type of manliness. Pace is tall and thin as opposed to JDM’s broad-shouldered stature. Pace is clean-shaven, his hair neat, his boyish good looks seeming polished and almost beautiful next to JDM’s rugged, scruffy look.

However, unlike JDM, Pace is often filmed from behind, or, if from the front, in medium-to-full shots, accentuating his lanky frame as opposed to his face, which is often turned in profile or obscured by the bags of groceries he frequently carries. If the intention is for us to draw comparisons between the two of them — which I think it is — the film fails on a formal level. We’re never really given a chance to examine him, to seek out his motivations in the set of his jaw or the narrowing of his eyes, the way we are with Jeffrey Dean Morgan.

The one time we do see a lingering, decently-lit shot of his face, we have just learned that he, too, has been following Juliet.

It’s framed almost like a hero shot, set against the Brooklyn Bridge. Indeed, as The Resident fails to draw parallels between the two men on a formal level, so too does it fumble the parallels between them on a plot level. Both of her romantic interests are creepy stalkers! But then, when Jack tells her he’s been following her, she sees it as romantic and welcomes him back into her life. He cooks her dinner, after all!

Instead of making a point about how damaging both brands of masculinity are —Lee Pace’s Norman Bates-esque “nice guy next door” and Jeffrey Dean Morgan’s rugged uber-masculinity — The Resident seems to say that Jack’s stalking of Juliet is okay, because he really loves her.

It’s a missed opportunity and a waste of the considerable talents of its cast. This movie was one of the first produced under the revitalized Hammer Films, an iconic horror brand that produced cult classics up through the 1970s. (The Resident also features Christopher Lee, who made his name acting in Hammer’s Dracula films and many others, but he too is wasted; he barely gets a half a dozen lines and mostly just lurks in the doorway down the hall). They have since gone on to make The Woman in Black and The Quiet Ones, two interesting and worthwhile horror movies, so I’ll resist making jokes about how the brand should have stayed dead. Which is really hard to do.

But where can I watch it? The Resident is available for streaming on Shudder.