Hilary Swank's previous venture in the horror genre came a few years after her Oscar-winning turn in Million Dollar Baby, where she didn't exactly set the world on fire in the neo-religious nosedive The Reaping. In hindsight, it should've been an anticipated blunder: Swank's more adept with hostile drama crammed within intimate scenarios, not with digital bugs and fire-'n-brimstone rumbling about. Something like Hammer Films' The Resident seems a comfier fit for the actress' poise, dropping her in the position of a single woman living in an eerie New York apartment that rouses suspicion with each creak and stir in its foundation. But with a shaky script hampered by wooden dialogue and one-dimensional characters, Swank again finds herself running through the horror genre's thorn bushes in this lumbering mood-heavy creeper.
The Resident plucks elements from Roman Polanski's The Tenant and Barbet Schroeder's Single White Female, with Swank playing Juliet, an attractive doctor fresh out of a divorce. After winding through the maze of New York apartments, stumbling onto stinker after overpriced stinker, she receives a call from someone regarding a vacancy that's, at the least, intriguing. When Juliet arrives at the place, she's in awe: it's an open-aired, wood-covered flat with tons of space, and at a price she's unable to pass up on. Even the space's landlord-owner Max (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) seems to be a gem, a trustworthy type full of amiable grins. Yet as Juliet's relationship with Max develops while she settles in to her new digs, and the neighbor down the hall (Christopher Lee) darts shifty eyes in her direction, she can't ignore the feeling that something seems off-kilter in the dimly-lit place -- like she's being watched.
First-time feature-length director Antti Jokinen realizes that the apartment's mood largely propels The Resident and its atmosphere, and he allows it to do so with nimble lighting and lucid, briskly-textured photography. Pan's Labyrinth cinematographer Guillermo Navarro captures the deceptive warmth of Juliet's new abode through scattered lights and comely corridors, which infuses a disquieting energy into the picture on a pure sensory level. Stray shots of Swank undressing and bathing provoke a level of intimacy while informing the picture with voyeuristic allure, double-backing to its femme-focused pivot points. There's no absence of that icky goosebump-inducing sensation that accompanies material about dark-corner stalkers, that's for sure, especially once the facts about the apartment come into focus.
What's missing is a grasp on Juliet as a distinct individual, instead defaulting to a generic feminine typecast going through the motions. Unfilled scripting and a sturdy but indistinct performance from Hilary Swank hold The Resident back from some of the aggressive energy it could've exerted, showing that it's more concerned with the provocative measures that an obsessive voyeur would undertake than the mental jarring that accompanies a fear of being watched -- or messed with against one's will. There's not much that separates Juliet from the likes of, say, Meg Ryan's character in City of Angels, a hesitant doctor with just the right amount of arm's length knowledge, and the film's rhythm suffers due to a lack of interest in both her state and her as an overall character. When Juliet receives messages from her wayward husband (Pushing Daisies' Lee Pace, but he's only in a handful of scenes) and impairs her judgment by guzzling down glasses of wine, The Resident lacks the suspense it should generate around a woman in danger.
Part of that resides in the film's structure, though, executed proficiently by Jokinen but lacking the fierceness it needs to combine intriguing storytelling and fidget-worthy tension. The Resident shows its cards early by revealing a second perspective on Juliet's apartment, which effectively morphs the energy from quasi-whodunit suspense to something similar to watching a predator stalk its prey. Once it does this, it mostly descends into a vat of nasty button-pushing that aims to unsettle the audience, aided immensely by Jeffrey Dean Morgan's convincing gruffness. And it does discomfort to an extent, but in a muddled, rushed haze that's more concerned with its own snaky skin-crawling than following through with a concise resolution to Juliet's story. At the least, it'll make you want to upgrade your home security ... and watch what you drink.
Video and Audio:
The Resident's central strengths lie in mood achieved, with cinematography flipping between dim, misleading warmth and crisp high-detail interior shots -- such as Juliet's hospital and in her bathroom. Image Entertainment's Blu-ray houses the film in an attractive 1080p 2.35:1-framed encode, handling the deep contrast and shrewd zoom-ins to rather satisfying levels. Skin tones lean warm but show off a wealth of inviting, textured close-ups, while several reserved palette splashes -- light-blue soapy water, the splash of red wine on tiles, the sheen on freshly-melted candlewax -- show off the disc's capable eye for subtle color fluctuation. Moments when Juliet's running through the park show off some attractive exterior shots with well-balanced contrast, while the extra-dark interior sequences keep from swallowing up details. Some scenes come off a little flat and processed, with some heavier compression and noise here and there, but it's otherwise a solid visual presentation.
The English 5.1 DTS HD Master Audio track handles itself rather well across the board as well, with an attuned ear for dimensionality and ambiance that the sound design needs. The music from a radio in Juliet's wide bounces against the surround channels with a lot of awareness of the design's space. Hilary Swank's thick alto voice sounds terrific, while Jeffrey Dean Morgan's low, slightly gravelly rumble shows the bass channel a bit of love. The startling sound of a cellphone's ringer pierces the highpoint loud and clear, while the billowing music booms and moves along with the film's momentum just fine. It's not the most active track, with little core surround activity (other than musical cues) reaching to the rears, but it's a well-balanced and clear presentation that supports the picture's eerie design. Optional English and Spanish subtitles accompany the release.
Aside from a high-definition Trailer (1:56, HD) that does a fine job of concealing the film's twists, nothing else has been included.
The Resident might nail the mood down and achieve some slug-in-the-belly squirms with its angle, but the craftsmanship can't overlook rigid dialogue, a malnourished concentration on characters, and a overall lack of involvement with its familiar woman-alone-in-an-apartment setup. Though Image Entertainment's bareboned disc sports fine audiovisual specs, the film itself only merits a Rental. It's worth the time for a few chills and the grimy feeling it leaves, one that'll make you want to take a shower afterwards.