Review: Bad Things gets lost in its own attempts at reworking the best elements of Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining. Despite the movie having a few neat technical pieces and a terrific setting, Stewart Thorndike’s latest film lacks the structure to win a viewer over.
As a representation of queer identity in horror, and an obvious homage to Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining, Bad Things attempts to reimagine the status quo of a genre constantly trying to push boundaries and experiment in new ideas. And while that all sounds great on the surface, it takes a certain level of execution and baked-in quality from the script in order to successfully pull it off. Unfortunately for Bad Things, it succumbs to its own ideas without ever putting any substantial pen to paper.
It starts with trying to define the horror tropes you want to tinker with while forging them into your own story. Bad Things was surprisingly void of the tense or scary moments you would think you’d get from a low-budget genre exercise. It dabbles in a consistent tone of dread and isolation, using many of the same cues and elements that made The Shining so effective in the 1980s, but Bad Things is lacking the refinement and concise story to match.
The movie is the latest feature length film from writer and director Stewart Thorndike, who’s only other credits including a couple short films and a queer reincarnation of Rosemary’s Baby in 2014 titled Lyle. She’s used her platform to interpret the classics in a new lens – seeing some of horror’s staple features through the eyes of the youth expelled to the margins of society.
Bad Things follows a weekend getaway for a few friends at a snowy hotel, one of which has inherited the property from her grandmother. Her name is Ruthie (Gayle Rankin), who is using the weekend as a way to rekindle her fraught relationship with her girlfriend Cal (Hari Nef). The other two joining them are friends Maddie and Fran (Red Pereira and Annabelle Dexter-Jones, respectively).
As the weekend rolls along, Ruthie begins to feel the walls closing in and the hotel’s seductive embrace taking over. She’s hoping to sell the hotel and never return, but Cal drags her to try to restore the building back to its old self. It becomes a fight between real and fake, blurry the lines between what happens outside and inside your own perceived reality.
But even with this familiar horror-esque synopsis, Bad Things doesn’t work much as a solid genre flick, or even a thriller for that matter. It’s just not that visceral, absent of either strong elements of gore or moments of psychological terror. You linger with the cast for quite some time, watching them ramble through lines of dialogue that pass by quickly.
And the cast here delivers to mixed results. The best case is probably from Rad Pereira as Maddie, who pushes against Ruthie in a cynical manner, never fully trusting in the lead’s intentions. They offer the most volatility in any of the performances, feeling like the level-headed member in a group of friends constantly at one another’s throats.
The movie centers around Gayle Rankin’s turn as Ruthie, and it’s really hard to feel as though she’s operating at a level high enough to make a movie like Bad Things work. This is entirely her fault as she’s not given nearly enough material and opportunity to feel like a real person, always fighting her own personal demons and outside pressures to the point of exhaustion.
This role was handled by Jack Nicholson over forty years ago in The Shining, which is one of my personal favorite performances ever. He balances a sense of honest and hopeful intentionality with a slimy taste for the grotesque. His slow descent into madness is fascinating as pinpointing his exact breaking point is impossible to conclude, lending itself to many, many rewatches.
This is to say that what Gayle Rankin would have to accomplish here with a GOOD script is really difficult to pull off. Her character of Ruthie, and the larger movie in general, is filling really big shoes without enough teeth and grit to fill its own runtime.
Reviews for Movies like Bad Things
Which is why Bad Things can feel like a slog, meandering between narrative beats and rarely offering the jolt of energy to wake an audience member up. I’d like to see another Stewart Thorndike film, one where she isn’t restrained by trying to riff so heavily on other canonical horror movies.
Because I think there’s still a handful of technical elements that make Bad Things pop despite a lackluster, unfocused story. It’s an absolutely beautiful location as the soft pink walls and ornate furnishing offer a sense of false homeliness. It doesn’t feel hollow until you spend an hour in it and want to claw your way out.
The camerawork is also noteworthy for how unobtrusive it is. There aren’t many flourishes or flashy movements to hold onto, enhancing the mundane and purposefully empty atmosphere set forth by the production design.
Bad Things doesn’t change the tides for an uninspired slate of movies from Shudder this year. It’s flat story and lost sense of purpose is felt through the cracked walls of its hotel, compounded by the fact that it’s a remarkably unscary horror movie. Some technical work saves the experience from being a total dud, but I hope to see Thorndike work with material much better than this in the future.
Where to watch Bad Things: Shudder
Bad Things Movie Cast and Credits
Gayle Rankin as Ruthie
Hari Nef as Cal
Annabelle Dexter-Jones as Fran
Rad Pereira as Maddie
Jared Abrahamson as Brian
Molly Ringwald as Miss Auerbach
Director: Stewart Thorndike
Writer: Stewart Thorndike
Cinematography: Grant Greenberg
Composer: Jason Falker
Bad Things movie on Letterboxd
Bad Things movie on IMDb