This piece was written during the 2023 WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes. Without the labour of the writers and actors currently on strike, the movie/series/feature being covered here wouldn't exist.
"Bad Things bites off more than it can chew and becomes a meandering slog with little pay-off."
BY BECCA JOHNSON AUGUST 28, 2023
Directed by Stewart Thorndike and starring Gayle Rankin (Men) and Hari Nef (Barbie), Bad Things follows a group of girl friends on a weekend getaway at a snowy hotel. What was planned to be a relaxing break to reconnect and recuperate soon transforms into a psychological nightmare, as the ghosts of the past come to light, deceased guests come to life and the group start to turn on each other. Despite boasting great performances and a creepy, claustrophobic setting, Bad Things bites off more than it can chew and becomes a meandering slog with little pay-off.
Most discussions online regarding Bad Things seem to centre around one thing – it's Shining-esque approach. Upon watching the movie, it becomes apparent why – it seems to be a modern retelling of the Stephen King classic, not just holding occasional similarities but often feeling exactly like it. It's hotel setting may not be as grand or as eerie as the Overlook, but it is claustrophobic, dingy and cold, immersing it's audience into it's chilling tone. Instead of following a man and his family, we follow a woman, her girlfriend and a couple of friends whose bond is tested as the hotel seems to play tricks on them. Our characters may not exactly be able to see ghosts, but the ghosts of the past make their presence known throughout, and it's hard to tell whether what's happening is real or not. As a modern, gay companion piece/re-telling of The Shining, it is actually quite fun.
The cast of Bad Things are excellent. Shining as our leading lady is Gayle Rankin, who plays our unhinged lead particularly well. Hari Nef is also great as her partner Cal, who struggles to trust her partner due to past incidents but wants to stick by her as the horrors increase. The supporting cast are also pretty good, with Annabelle Dexter-Jones (Under the Silver Lake) and Rad Pereira filling out the rest of the friend group. 80's chick flick favourite Molly Ringwald also makes an appearance in the movie, and despite not having much screentime or a great deal to do, it's undeniably fun to have her on board. The small but competent cast do well to elevate the material, and it's great to have such a diverse cast.
The cinematography is great, the performances impress and the dingy setting works so well to get under your skin and make you feel claustrophobic. It has all the ingredients needed to create a likeable horror, but it's issues within the story stop it from achieving greatness. Despite only being 83 minutes long, the run-time occasionally drags, providing a lot of repetitive build-up. The script is very basic, with clunky dialogue and too many scenes featuring our characters moaning and shouting at each other. There are one or two unsettling shots but it's mostly very light on the horror, not seeming to fit into the genre at all. For a Shudder Original, many viewers may be expecting more in the horror department. All of this would be worthwhile if it's ending delivered, but unfortunately, the whole movie crescendo's into almost nothing. Not only is it pretty ambiguous, but not a great deal happens.
It's obvious that Thorndike wanted to go for something a little more understated and character driven, but unfortunately, it doesn't have enough emotional depth to forgive the lack of scares and cohesion. Though the performances are great, the characters are unlikeable throughout the entire run-time, making it hard to root for anyone. We know hardly anything about our group of women so it's hard to resonate with them, and although it cleverly drip-feeds us information about our lead Ruthie, we never learn enough to fully understand her character. It's script needed a bit more character development, emotion, heart and explanation.
Strangely, Bad Things tries to do too much yet ends up achieving nothing by the time the credits roll. It can't quite find it's footing or settle into one particular tone, becoming a bit of mess and often a chore to get through. The setting is wonderful and it's likely worth checking out for the amazing cast, but it won't do much for horror hounds, wider audiences won't dig it's meandering approach, and fans of slower, character driven flicks likely won't find this one memorable enough. It's good, but not great.