Bad Samaritan (2018)
★★★ / ★★★★
Here is the kind of movie where the detestable antagonist ends up crawling on the ground by the picture’s final chapter and we root for the protagonist to “Hit him! Hit him!” in order to minimize the possibility of the psychopath from getting up and regaining the upper hand. Although far from an impressive thriller, “Bad Samaritan,” based on the screenplay by Brandon Boyce and directed by Dean Devlin, gets the job done as an entertaining genre exercise. Once the first domino is tipped forward, it is near impossible to want to look away because the stakes only increase from there.
In straightforward psycho-thrillers, it is a common technique to make the antagonist appear nearly impossible, certainly improbable, to beat. David Tennant plays a son of a billionaire who has a sick hobby of breaking people’s spirit by keeping them in his home and torturing them. Tennant plays Cale with unrelenting intensity that notice it is unnecessary for the character to say more than ten to fifteen words at a time. He communicates plenty by looking at his prey a certain way, like he is superior to them, how he moves with urgency and purpose, how he tilts his head in such a way when sick thoughts brew in his mind.
Cale’s secret is found out early in the picture during a nail-biter of a sequence. Sean (Robert Sheehan) and Derek (Carlito Olivero) are valets at a restaurant who break into customer’s homes as they enjoy their meals—assuming, of course, that they live nearby. The deception goes horribly awry for the duo when Sean discovers a battered woman who is tied up to a chair in Cale’s posh home. Sheehan plays Sean almost like an anti-hero in a romantic comedy: very likable despite the rough edges, willing to show his emotions at the right time, charming. These are necessary traits that must be communicated with clarity in order for the audience to get behind the protagonist and not simply regard him as the lesser of two evils: murderer versus scam artist. It is apparent that the performer is a dramatic actor because he sells specific emotions with seeming ease.
There are several threads that might have elevated the work had the screenplay taken the time enrich supporting characters that tread such avenues. I found the figures of authority to be marginally interesting here. For example, the detective who is willing to listen to Sean’s improbable claims and an FBI agent who has been following a case that had gone cold. It would have been interesting to get an inside look into their jobs in addition to a samaritan’s perspective. In standard thrillers, it is often frustrating that authority figures show up only after the criminal had been defeated. While such an element is present here (accompanied by a joke), a fresher choice might have resulted had the screenwriter been willing to put in more work in creating interesting characters who happen to have specific means due to their occupations.
Although not the most inspiring picture of the genre, “Bad Samaritan” entertains on the most basic level. It is the kind of movie that a person would decide to watch while browsing through channels because both its content and its murky tone snags one’s curiosity. It moves in a forward direction with utmost urgency. However, be warned that it is not for viewers hoping to understand the mind of a psychopath and how he ended up that way. It is quite bare even for a modern thriller, but I enjoyed its simplicity.
Fright Night (2011)
★★★ / ★★★★
Charley (Anton Yelchin) used to be a dweeb. His former best friend was Ed (Christopher Mintz-Plasse), a complete nerd whose hobbies consisted of dressing up and role playing. Charley’s recent surge to popularity earned him a girlfriend, Amy (Imogen Poots), and much cooler but insensitive guy friends (Dave Franco, Reid Ewing). Ed had a growing suspicion: that Charley’s new neighbor, Jerry (Colin Farrell), was vampire and he was responsible for their classmates’ sudden disappearances. Charley didn’t take Ed seriously. He thought Ed’s suspicion was a sad cry for them to be friends again. That is, up until Ed failed to show up to class the next day. “Fright Night,” written by Marti Noxon and Tom Holland, was a fast-paced vampire film, set in the suburbs of Las Vegas, equipped with modern twists to keep us interested. The characters were likable even though they weren’t always smart. We knew Charley was a well-meaning young adult because he considered and questioned if he was doing the right thing. The checkpoint that went off in his head was his best quality, but it was also what Jerry tried to exploit. The predator must exploit its prey’s weaknesses. There were predictable elements in the picture. For instance, we expected the characters who chose to run upstairs to hide from the blood-thirsty vampire to never make it out of the house alive. And they didn’t. Maybe they didn’t deserve to. After all, with all the references thrown in the air, the teens must’ve seen a vampire movie or two prior to being vamp food. However, the writing was self-aware of the conventions and it wasn’t afraid to throw allusions to the original film, vampire movies, and literature. Though the expected happened, I felt as though it was more concerned with giving the audiences a good time. I loved its somewhat elliptical storytelling. The rising action was often interrupted by a mini-climax. The drawn-out set-up of investigating, hiding, being hunted, and escaping worked quite effectively. By giving us small but fulfilling rewards, it kept us wondering what would happen next. Still, the story could have used more character development. Charley’s mom (Toni Collette) felt like a cardboard cutout of an unaware parent. She knew her son had unique interests but to not question him seriously when their neighbor seemed to have a genuine complaint in terms of privacy being breached felt too convenient. Charley’s mom seemed like a tough woman but she wasn’t given room to grow. What the film needed less was of the self-described vampire expert/magician named Peter Vincent (David Tennant). Obviously, he was necessary for comic relief. I laughed at his ridiculousness, but what I had a difficult time accepting was the fact that he could survive a vampire attack multiple times. His backstory was sloppily handled. I commend “Fright Night,” directed by Craig Gillespie, for taking the original as an inspiration and telling a different kind of story. Its flaws didn’t matter as much because it had fun. It sure is more interesting than a shot-for-shot remake of the original which most likely would have forced us to ask why they even bothered.