Bad Samaritan: The Early 90’s Called and Wants Its Storyline Back

If you missed Bad Samaritan when it was released in theaters back in May, don’t feel bad. Apparently a lot of people missed its limited theatrical release. Perhaps what’s more surprising is that Bad Samaritan was theatrically released instead of just distributed across VOD streaming platforms. Despite starring David Tennant and having a seasoned Hollywood veteran like Dean Devlin behind the camera, nothing about Bad Samaritan really stood out. Now with its VOD release last week, the horror-thriller is available for a wider audience.

Synopsis 

Sean Falco, a young and struggling photographer, moonlights as a valet at a ritzy Italian restaurant. Along with his co-worker, Derek, Sean uses the GPS in his clients’ cars to locate their homes and burglarize them. But Sean gets more than he bargained for when breaks into a wealthy client’s home and discovers a young woman chained up in a room. When he abandons the woman, Sean becomes overwhelmed with guilt and decides he is going to save her and expose her captor, Cale Erendreich. However, Sean’s change of heart puts him and his loved ones directly in Cale’s cross-hairs.

A Familiar Workmanlike Effort

The Bad Samaritan is not a bad film, per se. Director Dean Devlin brings a certain professional workmanlike quality to the thriller. Audiences can expect good cinematography, editing, sound quality, and pacing. None of these qualities, however, serve to elevate Bad Samaritan from its own generic story and straight-to-video aesthetics.

Director Dean Devlin brings a certain professional workmanlike quality to the thriller.

Like an earlier release this year, Bad Match, the Bad Samaritan can’t shake its 80’s and early 90’s thriller roots. The screenplay, written by Brandon Boyce (Apt Pupil) feels like an amalgamation of recycled story bits from movies like Pacific Heights, Jagged Edge, Sliver, The Hand That Rocks the Cradle, or Single White Female. Robert Sheehan’s morally conflicted hero, Sean Falco, feels like every clueless, initially over-matched protagonist from these retro-thrillers. You just know there has to be the obligatory scene where an authority figure ignores his cries for help. We also have the protagonist’s friend whose sole purpose is to be killed by the villain as a reminder that they’re really, really bad. Of course, the villain also has to possess an almost preternatural ability to always be one step ahead of the hero. It’s all there in the Bad Samaritan.

Bad Samaritan 2

Lacking the Intensity or Exploitative Grit It Clearly Attempts to Mimic

Bad Samaritan tries very had to set itself apart from its retro-thriller roots by co-opting the more intense horror sensibilities of the 2000’s ‘Torture Porn’ movement. Scenes with Kerry Condon’s captive ‘Katie’ shackled into a chair or held in a cage have the dark, dank imagery some horror fans will associate with the Saw films or grimier efforts like the Elisha Cuthbert-Captivity. The lighting and set-up of the villain’s Cale Erendreich’s ‘kill room’ will conjure up images from about a dozen or so serial films.

Devlin may know what tropes to try and incorporate into Bad Samaritan, but just about everything he does with these ideas feels oddly sterile. All of the intensity and squeamishness associated with ‘torture porn’s’ exploitative violence is drained from the action in Bad Samaritan. Watching some of scenes in Bad Samaritan, you get the sense that you should feel stressed, scared, or uncomfortable, but nothing in the movie elicits those responses. Devlin never fully commits to that aspect of the movie and, as a result, the entire proceedings fall flat.

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David Tennant Largely Wasted in an Underwritten Role

Anyone who has watched Doctor Who or Jessica Jones knows just what David Tennant can bring to a role. His performance as Kilgrave in Jessica Jones was disturbingly chilling, and certainly went a long way towards addressing Marvel’s ‘villain problem’. In Bad Samaritan, Tennant unfortunately alternates between oddly flat as the film’s antagonist or wildly over-the-top. It never feels like the blame should be fully laid at Tennant’s feet, or that he is just phoning it in. Boyce’s screenplay is broad and the Cale Erendreich character feels more like a collection of standard serial killer traits than an actual character. Tennant simply isn’t given much work with in Bad Samaritan.

Tennant simply isn’t given much work with in Bad Samaritan.

Fortunately, Robert Sheehan’s ‘Sean Falco’ is given a little more with which to work, and Sheehan responds in turn by delivering an earnestly stronger performance. Like Cale Erendreich, Sean Falco is more a collection of traits and tropes, but Sheehan makes the most of Sean’s moral conundrum. He’s able to take that aspect of the character and use it to deliver an emotionally-affecting performance. As the captive Kate, Kerry Condon is given more to do than you might expect. Her performance is much better than the objectified ‘damsel-in-distress’ role required.

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Bad Samaritan Offers A Familiar, Undemanding Diversion

Bad Samaritan is by no means an awful film. It’s certainly a derivative and underwhelming effort that drags on 20 minutes longer than necessary. Yet for many potential viewers, the David Tennant-thriller will offer an undemanding diversion for its 1 hour and 50 minutes run-time. Interestingly, if Bad Samaritan had been released in the early 1990’s, it like would have been the straight-to-video thriller it so clearly mimics in style and story.

THE PROFESSOR’S FINAL GRADE: C

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Author: Andrew Welsh

I am a Criminology professor in Canada but I've always had a passion for horror films. Over the years I've slowly begun incorporating my interest in the horror genre into my research. After years of saying I wanted to write more about horror I have finally decided to create my own blog where I can share some of my passion and insights into the films I love.

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