It’s hard to find new things to do, in a genre so overcrowded with cheap and often cheerless attempts to be a breakout success like The Evil Dead or The Blair Witch Project. Sometimes it’s better to do the simple things simply and well, and The Resident (The Sublet in North America) isn’t breaking any new ground, but instead settles for being intriguing and chilling, with believable characters and an interesting, mostly coherent and quite absorbing story.
Essentially it’s Kubrick’s The Shining relocated to suburbia. Joanna and her husband-to-be sublet an apartment in slightly odd circumstances, so she can raise their toddler while he spends increasing amounts of time away from home, trying to get his acting career off the ground. But the slightly odd circumstances prove rather prophetic, and the inner demons Joanna has to contend with, as her partner swans around LA with his ex-girlfriend in close proximity, are very soon manifesting in apparently corporeal fashion all around her. In exactly the same manner as Kubrick’s Stephen King adaptation, it’s left mostly to the imagination and to the final moments of the film before it’s revealed whether the ostensible haunting is real, or all in the isolated protagonist’s mind.
The Resident doesn’t attempt to upstage Kubrick, however. Rather, it settles for a low-key tone and adopts some modest but effective tricks in order to maximise the unsettling feel it’s aiming for, largely very successfully. Seasoned horror fans will have seen all the plot points before, but director Ainslie employs them with complete assurance and after a fashion that helps keep them fresh. Which isn’t to say he doesn’t run adrift at times; several sub-plots (including a potential Battleship Potemkin moment) don’t really go anywhere, and a possibly imaginary missing persons detour halfway through threatens to throw the entire tone out of whack. Much of the acting, as often happens in low budget films, is a little self-conscious, but Tianna Nori as Joanna is excellent and holds everything together with conviction.
What really stands Ainslie’s film up, is the frank but sympathetic portrayal of a woman undergoing severe self-doubt. Amid some genuinely unsettling psychological moments, there are any number of recognisable truisms about relationships on the journey through her emotional unravelling. It’s almost a shame it has to end the way it does, with what feels like potentially a cliché too far, but in terms of how both the personal narrative and its supernatural counterpart develop it’s the only logical conclusion to the story.
This isn’t the best horror film that’s ever been made, and almost everything in it has been done better and more effectively elsewhere. Nevertheless, for a debut feature it’s a remarkably consistent and affecting watch.
THE RESIDENT (AKA THE SUBLET) / CERT: 18 / DIRECTOR: JOHN AINSLIE / SCREENPLAY: JOHN AINSLIE, ALYSON RICHARDS / STARRING: TIANNA NORI, MARK MATECHUK, RACHEL SELLAN, KRISTA MADISON / RELEASE DATE: 22ND MAY