Wednesday, December 7, 2022

Significant Other (2022)

Warning: while I’m not going to go into details about the film’s big moment in the middle, I’ll talk around it in a way that might be considered a spoiler to some!

Long-time couple Ruth (Maika Monroe) and Harry (Jake Lacy) are going on a backtracking trip somewhere in the Pacific Northwest.

It’s all Jake’s idea, really, for he has done a lot of this sort of thing before he met Ruth, and genuinely wants her to appreciate this thing he loves. It’s not a good idea, mind you. For while Ruth clearly is as much in love with Harry as he is with her, she is also a tightly packed bundle of anxieties and depression for whom a camping trip in the wilds even with the person she loves most in the world is sheer terror. Given that none of this is news to Harry, it’s a bit of mystery why he believes this situation will be the ideal moment to ask Ruth to marry him, but there you have it.

As if relationship troubles weren’t bad enough, things turn rather horrible when Ruth makes a discovery inside of a cave.

And that’s really where I like to leave the plot of Dan Berk’s and Robert Olsen’s Significant Other, for the big middle plot development is the sort of thing I think a viewer needs to experience all by themselves. Apart from being clever but not annoyingly so, it certainly escalates the situation for and between the characters in a pretty terrible way. It’s also absolutely of a piece with the portrayal of a fraught but loving relationship we’ve seen before, still letting the film speak about its themes while turning things dramatically horrific in a manner that resonates with all that surrounds it.

It’s at this point of the proceedings where it becomes clear how good the performances of Monroe and Lacy actually are, as well as how cleverly the script and the actors work together to make certain things ambiguous without cheating the audience or betraying the characters. Monroe, having been in quite a few classics or semi-classics of fantastic cinema by now, always seems a bit underrated to me, mostly because her acting style on the surface seems to fall into the “pretty face, big eyes, sloping shoulders” kind of cliché. In actuality, she has a lot of nuance, making little shifts in expression, posture and emotional projection that suggest she is putting quite a bit of thought into her characters and position whoever she is playing as a believable human being in often quite strange circumstances. Lacy for his part manages to play through some major shifts in a very organic feeling manner, until he comes to a point where he can really milk certain developments for maximum creepiness (with a good sense of the emotionally grotesque).

Apart from turning into a very clever piece of science fiction horror, Significant Other is also highly effective and thoughtful as the portrayal of a relationship in which one of the partners suffers from mental illness, specifically depression and social anxieties. For once, writer/directors actually seem to understand how frustratingly like self-sabotage these things can feel for the person suffering from them, how dispiriting and undermining of one’s trust in oneself, to the point where one can love somebody with all one’s heart, but can never convince oneself one is actually good enough for them. And because the film really does understand, it doesn’t make Ruth or Harry the asshole in this situation – even though Harry’s attempt at turning Ruth into an outdoors person seems very misguided – and doesn’t question their love or commitment. All of which makes the horror plot hit all the harder, of course.

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