As the COVID-19 pandemic ebbs and flows, the box office occasionally shows signs of life. Some recent misses, however, likely have studio executives re-thinking release strategies. Outside of Top Gun: Maverick, horror has enjoyed an extremely good year with box office hits like The Black Phone and Smile. While studios figure out what will lure audiences into the cineplexes, they’ll leaning heavily on their streaming platforms. Paramount + has enjoyed a good year, releasing a handful of their horror movies directly to the platform, including Orphan: First Kill. And their latest release, the sci-fi horror movie, Significant Other, has generated some positive buzz.
Ruth and Harry have been together for several years – Harry sees a future together. But Ruth has cold feet about marriage. A hiking trip on a remote trail only exacerbates these tensions. But there’s something else lurking in the woods. And it’s following Ruth and Harry.
Significant Other Has Enough Atmosphere and Twists to Subvert Expectations
Saying anything else about the plot would be unfair to fresh audiences. If the premise and setup seem familiar, co-writer and directors Dan Berk and Robert Olsen ensure the path the story takes is never quite conventional. The mix of science fiction and horror elements recalls Alex Garland’s Annihilation and the lesser-known Honeymoon. From its opening scene, the directors establish the threat waiting for the troubled couple. There’s quite a bit of subtle tension in the thriller’s early going that’s only undercut by what feels like familiarity. And when Significant Other feels like it’s about to slide into derivative territory, Berk and Olsen unveil a pretty huge surprise. And they’re not finished at that point – there’s at least one more noteworthy surprise awaiting viewers.
And when Significant Other feels like it’s about to slide into derivative territory, Berk and Olsen unveil a pretty huge surprise.
Following its big twists, Significant Other loses some momentum. In addition to some tonal problems, the appeal of this sci-fi thriller hinges on its underlying drama. At its core, Berk and Olsen are telling a story about relationships and fears of commitment. And one of the movie’s strengths is the organic relationship between the principal actors that enhances the narrative. Specifically, Berk and Olsen use Ruth’s insecurities about commitment to enhance the movie’s mystery and feed into some of the twists. In the third act, some of Significant Other’s relationship issues lean into melodrama but they’re saved both by the performances and what’s an admittedly fun ending. Some of the special effects overextend the thriller’s budget, but this is a pretty minor complaint.
Significant Other Leans On Two Strong Lead Performances, Even If The Screenplay Lets One of Them Down
Both the lead performances are excellent though they ultimately draw attention to tonal problems. Over the course of the last several years, Maika Monroe (The Guest, It Follows, Tau, Watcher) has amassed an impressive horror and thriller filmography. Not surprisingly, Monroe is excellent and carries the movie in its quieter moments. In fact, Significant Other’s story twists wholly rely on Monroe’s performance, particularly her facial expressions and body language. And when Significant Other’s finale threatens to slide into melodrama, Monroe anchors the story and ensures you remain invest in the outcome.
Not surprisingly, Monroe is excellent and carries the movie in its quieter moments.
Likewise Jake Lacy (The White Lotus) impresses with what’s initially an ‘everyman’ role. Lacy exudes a natural charm that fits the role perfectly. And Berk and Olsen’s screenplay thankfully avoids too many movie clichés in its treatment of Ruth and Harry’s relationship and their conflict. For the first half of the thriller, Lacy invests ‘Harry’ with enough simple likability to maintain at least the possibility audiences will empathize a bit with his plight. But the screenplay and tone let Lacy down. Without spoiling any of the twists, the story requires a shift in Lacy’s character that too often slips into jokey behaviour that feels at odds with the tone previously established. Lacy’s performance is good; the screenplay is occasionally uneven.
Significant Other Overcomes Familiarity – And a Few Bumps – To Deliver An Effective Thriller
Overall, Significant Other lacks the atmosphere, intensity, and ambiguity of similar movies like Honeymoon. There’s some tonal inconsistences and its climax – while true to the narrative – veers somewhat into melodrama. But Significant Other is no less satisfying as a thriller. The ways in which Berk and Olsen play with convention and audience expectations alongside the initial atmosphere make for a compelling viewing experience. Certainly, there’s a handful of surprises that take this thriller on a couple of unexpected detours. If it’s not a perfect experience, it’s still a well-executed, and often ambitious, thriller