Kudos to writer and director John Ainslie for at least attempting to weave a welcome sense of ambiguity into the mix, as The Resident gamely tackles the themes of postpartum depression and paranoia. You can see the intent in his work, as his movie, which appears to have been kicking around for a couple of years under the title The Sublet, serves up a diet-Rosemary’s Baby style chiller with a sprinkling of The Stone Tape.
It’s an admirable effort that tries to navigate away from the typical overuse of clanging musical cues and jump scares towards something that creates a lasting sense of dread. Admirable may be all it is though, as the finished product never really succeeds in cranking up the tension. Middling writing and a tendency towards wearisome narrative trickery renders the finished product as something of a sporadically interesting damp squib, but not a great deal more.
Engaged to be married couple Joanna (Tianna Nori) and Geoff (Mark Matechuk), move into a strangely-furnished sublet apartment following the birth of their baby. With nobody on-site to show them around upon their arrival and just a vaguely disconcerting note imploring them to make themselves at home, you know the place was never going to be right. The transparent air of menace is obviously lost on the couple though, as make themselves at home they do. With Geoff’s acting career apparently in the ascendancy, it’s down to Joanna to look after their baby in the new and plainly unsettling surroundings of a home that boasts a dubiously locked and off-limits room and walls that crash and thump with alarming regularity.
Joanna, when not ignoring her son or dozing on that sofa that moves of its own accord, finds a diary belonging to a previous resident of the apartment. It’s a diary that charts the steady mental decline of a woman not dissimilar to Joanna; a woman whose own relationship is crumbling and whose newly born son appears to have met some unsavoury end due to complications arising from marital strife.
Joanna’s increasing madness and terror is occasionally presented with some nuance and it’s encouraging to see a movie that, at least in its earlier moments, tries to reconcile the contrasting elements of ambiguous paranoia with a straight ghost story. The chief problem of clumsy writing becomes more and more apparent, however, when the story finds itself wandering into the realms of the more fantastic and wonky set pieces come into play, before a complete jettisoning of all logic as the movie crescendos into irrelevant and tiresome splatter.
So when Joanna investigates the mysterious banging or the anonymous phone calls with a shy “hello?” for the umpteenth time, you find yourself saying it back to the screen aloud, as if the movie has settled into perverse parody of children’s educational language video. And when the growing distance between Geoff and Joanna manifests itself in the form of an impossibly-glamourous girlfriend, invited for dinner and pontificating on the evils of eating meat (to Geoff’s apparent obliviousness) the end result feels less like a moment of hopelessness for Joanna and more like a particularly awkward episode of Come Dine With Me.
The overuse of false awakenings and the constant flitting about with temporal stability both start to really grate as you approach the hour mark. And, as the complexities of the plot begin to unravel towards the denouement, you’re left with the impression that something that began with an ounce of promise and undertaken with good intentions, has become hobbled by dubious plotting and delivery.
Dir: John Ainslie
Scr: John Ainslie, Alyson Richards
Cast: Tianna Nori, Mark Matechuk, Krista Madison, Rachel Sellan
Prd: Black Fawn Films
Music: Jeff Morrow
Runtime: 78 mins
The Resident is available on DVD and Digital now.