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Cinema/TV, Film Notes

FrightFest review – Bad Samaritan

My notes on Bad Samaritan.

This far-fetched, ridiculously entertaining thriller cops its central idea from The Collector – the 2009 movie, not the John Fowles novel – but develops it in a different way.  In the earlier film, a cool professional thief breaks into a chic, booby-trapped home where an ingenious serial killer supervillain has innocents at his mercy and a contest of skills and wits ensues.  In Bad Samaritan, scripted by Brandon Boyce and directed by Dean Devlin, slacker Sean Falco (Robert Sheehan), an Irish guy dragged to Portland Oregon by his mother’s remarriage, works a valet parking scam with his best friend Derek (Carlito Olivero), whereby they use the cars and keys handed over by the unwary to loot upscale homes while the owners are having a nice restaurant meal.  Not exactly a criminal mastermind, Sean thinks he’s lucked out when he effects easy entry into the luxury home of rich asshole Cale Erendreich (David Tennant) … only, as revealed in a neat jump scare involving flash photography, the place isn’t empty.  Tethered to a chair in an all too familiar style is abductee Helen (Lisa Brenner), and Sean hasn’t got the heart to be the kind of dick who’d leave her to die … though he hasn’t initially gut the guts to do more than make an anonymous phone call and, in a rare use of what seems to be a plot hole making sense, beats himself up over the fact that he didn’t do something simple (giving the victim a phone) that would have avoided a lot of trouble.

 

Sean runs around the city, trying to do the right thing by going to the cops and the FBI, and Cale catches on, then sets out to use his own psycho skills to comprehensively ruin Sean’s life … breaking into the burglar’s home and hacking his social media, targeting his parents and friends, and taunting the kid with petulant nastiness.  Meanwhile, Helen is removed to the proverbial cabin in the woods, where the equestrian-obsessed Cale continues her ‘training and dressage’ – but thankfully not in the sort of detail that became overfamiliar in tortured-in-the-basement movies a decade ago.  Boyce – whose script credits include Apt Pupil, Venom (2005) and the Let the Right One In TV series – constructs a series of traps for his feckless lead character.  There are a few too many cutaways to the feds slowly catching on, which fills in the back story of ‘the trust fund killer’, but this often has the wit not to go down obvious routes.  In contrast to The Collector, both antagonists here are slightly feeble – consistently doing half-smart things which rebound on them later, and overconfident in their ability to exploit high tech in their war of nerves with each other.

 

Sheehan and Tennant – UK TV veterans, of course – both play men who’ve never grown up.  The is hero is just as liable to get distracted by petty irritations as the villain – ‘that’s how you save someone,’ the exasperated Helen has to shout after wielding a shovel when she realises her rescuer is pretty much a clod – which lends an amusingly snippy, childish air to the stalk-and-suspense stuff.  Devlin – following up his big screen debut, Geo-Storm (ahem) – periodically interrupts the game of half-wits by staging effective, shattering shocks (one left-field attack, in particular, goes further than you expect) which work like jump scares.  An unhealthy-looking Tennant seems to have dropped a lot of weight to play the reedy, whiny, rich villain — a smarmy, thin-skinned white guy who thinks he can get away with anything and is out to break people as if they were horses – and makes Cale a quease-inducing creep with none of the Lecter mad genius glamour.  Like several other recent screen villains, Cale is a reimagining of classic psycho movie sociopathy as a Men’s Rights Activist for the Trump era.

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