The Resident

Crawlspace

by Glenn Lovell

Hilary Swank has two Oscars on the mantel. So what’s she doing in “The Resident,” a new terror flick from England’s legendary Hammer Films?

Answer: She’s flexing her marquee muscle and having some fun in the bargain, much as Oscar-winners Jennifer Connelly and Renee Zellweger did in “Dark Water” and “Case 39.” When the film is, relatively speaking, a mid-budget genre entry, there’s less pressure and you can call more of the shots behind the camera as executive producer.

Of course it’s nice if your exercise in knee-jerk chills gets the job done and pleases the core audience.

Jeffrey Dean Morgan: Night visitor

“The Resident” ‒ featuring Hammer’s original Dracula, Christopher Lee, in a small supporting role  ‒ succeeds handily at both goals: It’s unnerving and arty, and it boasts music, set design and cinematography by some of the best folks in the business. No slumming here, thank you very much.

So what’s it doing on pay-per-view, where I caught it last night? A strategy to scare up word-of-mouth before a limited release? A tax-shelter deal? The film is slated for theaters in the U.K. in March.

Never mind, it’s available ‒ that’s the main thing.

A never-fitter-looking Swank plays Juliet Devereau, an ER physician at a Brooklyn hospital. Juliet is nursing a bruised heart from a messy break-up. Hence the sudden need for new digs. After a short search, she hits the jackpot, an old apartment with panoramic view of the Brooklyn Bridge and Manhattan skyline.

Max (Jeffrey Dean Morgan), the owner-super, says it’s a steal. Why? Noisy radiators, poor cell phone reception … nightly seismic activity from a nearby subway. Oh, yes, and there’s the creepy grandfather (Lee) prowling the premises.

Juliet count herself lucky and takes the place. All is bliss until she begins to sense someone or something is watching from the shadows. Also, she’s unaccountably fatigued in the morning. Better do without that extra glass of Merlot before bed.

Just when we think we know what’s what, director Antti Jokinen throws us a “Funny Games”-like curve by rewinding the film and starting over from another perspective. This conceit is jarring … in a good/troubling way.

“The Resident” takes the primal fear of home invasion to the next level. As in the old TV movie “Crawlspace” and the more recent “Open House,” you can’t lock out the threat because it’s already inside, and it knows the floor plan better than you.

Jokinen obviously knows his masters of voyeurism and paranoia. His plot boasts more peep holes and hidden passages than you’d find in a Hitchcock-Polanski retrospective. Also, thanks to cinematographer Guillermo Navarro (“Pan’s Labyrinth”), the apartment at night is cloaked in velvet-lush shadows from which figures slowly emerge. The apartment/crawlspace sets are by Oscar-winner Ann Roth (“The English Patient”), and the superb score, which incorporates banging pipes and rusty hinges, is by Bryan Singer’s longtime collaborator John Ottman. Not since “Silence of the Lambs” has so much blue-ribbon talent been recruited to throw a scare into an audience.

As the tenant on the rebound and, therefore, ripe for stalking, Swank’s Juliet independent and maddeningly gullible, especially when it comes to her landlord’s access to her apartment. Morgan (“Watchmen”), who resembles a young Javier Bardem, has the tougher assignment: His Max must be both charming and creepy. He has the dejected puppy dog routine down but is less convincing exploring the Norman Bates side of his persona. A light sleeper would see through this act in a flash.

Note: CinemaDope.com introduces its dagger rating with this film. This 1-4 rating is reserved for mostly independent fright films, which, as genre buffs have long known, must be judged by a special criteria. Was it genuinely scary? Did it undermine my sense of security? Did the violence serve the story or was it gratuitous? Did it tap into a dark side I’d just as soon not acknowledge?

THE RESIDENT  With Hilary Swank, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Christopher Lee. Directed by Antti Jokinen from a script by Jokinen, Robert Orr. 91 min. Rated R (for profanity, violence, perverse sex)

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