Bad Things has a talented cast and intriguing characters, but its attempt to combine drama and horror results in a disjointed story that lacks direction.
Hotels are hospitable homes away from home. They are somewhere to rest for the night after a long day of travel or hours of sightseeing while on vacation. Though once you imagine the halls filled with silence and all the rooms vacant, there can be something quite eerie about the setting. This is the case in Stewart Thorndike’s 2023 horror film Bad Things, as four friends embark on a getaway to an abandoned hotel that’s full of surprises.
As it turns out, Ruthie (Gayle Rankin) inherited the accommodation after her grandmother’s passing. She’s adamant about ridding herself of the newly acquired building, which is said to be haunted, but her girlfriend, Cal (Hari Nef), tries convincing her to keep it. As the couple travels to Comley Suites for the weekend with friends Maddie (Rad Pereira) and Fran (Annabelle Dexter-Jones), Ruthie lays the groundwork to sell the property, all while strange things start to happen within the building’s four walls.
Rankin impressed me in GLOW, so seeing her as the female lead in Bad Things is a welcome genre shift that further reflects her range as an actress. She gives an alluring performance, and whenever onscreen, you want to see more of Ruthie’s story unfold. The same can be said for Succession’s Annabelle Dexter-Jones, who excels as the haunted, complex Fran, as she starts to experience out-of-the-norm visions that her friends don’t see, and you sympathize with her. Though she is hooking up with Maddie, who is the most underutilized character of the foursome, none of Fran’s friends, if you can call them that, seem to like her much, and you can’t help but wonder why she was invited on the trip in the first place.
Nef is a solid addition to the Bad Things ensemble as Cal, who is the sincerest of the characters. She’s likable and loyal, though the focal point of her story is her love life, as she brushes off her girlfriend Ruthie’s infidelity with Fran. When questioned by her previous partner Maddie about the betrayal, she insists the incident was a one-off and will never happen again. It would have been nice to see Cal explored more as a character, as most of her screen time centers around her relationship woes. Sadly, though, there isn’t much else to her narrative.
In fact, Bad Things plays out more like a drama based on a love square among the four characters than a horror film, as many interactions between Ruthie, Cal, Maddie, and Fran consist of conversations about their love lives and disagreements. Once the horror elements arrive, which are few and far between, they fail to make an impact. Most ghostly appearances feel inserted into the storyline just to tick a box and lack context. For example, twin joggers, who are a clear nod to Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining, appear around the hotel throughout the film. Viewers are given a quick overview of their backstory, but their appearances are random, don’t amount to much, and there’s nothing remotely scary about the pair.
Another drawback is Bad Things’ chosen setting and the execution of the story. Not only do most of the attempted scares happen during the day, which dilutes the spooky scale significantly, but the hotel doesn’t present itself as haunted or intimidating. Instead, the rooms are filled with feminine colors and flowery bedding, the halls are vibrant, and the first floor has a delightful leisurely pool, none of which exactly screams, “get me out of here.”
Ultimately, Bad Things has a strong cast who give stellar performances, do all they can to elevate the material, and bring queer characters that deserve to be explored on screen to life. With that said, the film falls victim to a monotonous script lacking in direction, substance, and scares, all at the characters’ expense.
Bad Things will be available to stream on Shudder and AMC+ on August 18, 2023.