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Lofty ambition isn’t enough to redeem “Bad Things” — a heartfelt and refreshingly diverse, albeit very flawed, homage to “The Shining”.

Bad Things

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Being a movie reviewer is, at times, a little like being a parent. You have hopes and dreams for your progeny, just like those that crop up when sitting down to watch a film. Good things are expected, little kindnesses are appreciated, and respect must be given to be earned. You’ll always love your children, of course, but there are times when you just might not like them very much.

Such was my dilemma with Bad Things, a new spookshow recently arrived on Shudder.

Billed as a sapphic reinterpretation of The Shining (which it is, technically) and featured at the 2023 Tribeca Film Festival, there are many things to love about the movie. However, much like a surly teenager with authority issues, Bad Things also manages to squander much of the goodwill its premise and cast bring to the table.

IMDb has the synopsis as follows:

A group of friends go to a hotel for a weekend getaway and soon discover that women do bad things here.

Admittedly, that byline is undeniably awful. While it does convey the bare minimum of what the film is about, it omits that one of the girls has a history with the hotel and that they are not really there for a weekend getaway at all.

I’m all for keeping things vague enough to avoid spoilers, but some of those omitted details matter and would have made the synopsis a little more intriguing.

Though it may be blasphemous to some, I love both the movie and book versions of The Shining, albeit for completely different reasons.

I do know that King absolutely hated the movie adaptation, and I even understand why he feels that way. That said, I feel they’re each groundbreaking in their own right, and the movie is undeniably a classic, with or without King’s approval.

Bad Things, the sophomore feature film by Stewart Thorndike (their first, Lyle, premiered at Outfest 2014 to some acclaim), hews closer to the film version of The Shining, borrowing a lot of visual elements and cues from Kubrik’s seminal work. And while the overarching theme remains the same, i.e., morally flexible character has their worst side amplified by a haunted location, enough details have been tweaked, altered, or straight-up renovated, resulting in a fresh spin on an old gem.

(As an aside, considering how long The Shining has been out, as well as how culturally significant it was, I’m honestly surprised that there aren’t more adaptations of the “evil hotel drives a person crazy” theme.)

Anywho, back to the matter at hand. As stated before, Bad Things has a lot going for it. The absolute biggest, in my opinion, is the open-mindedness of it all.

Helmed by a trans director and featuring a prominent trans actress in a main role, not to mention a woman of color in another, the film is nothing if not inclusive.

Representation matters, and in a film that puts a very feminine spin on The Shining’s formula, it’s important that THAT aspect, at the very least, is handled appropriately.

While Bad Things could certainly have devolved into a Skinemax late-night nudie feature in someone else’s hands, titillation is not the name of the game, and portraying these women through a lens of “the male gaze” is virtually nonexistent.

The cast is also made up of some uniformly accomplished thespians.

Each of the four leads plays a very human character, each with her own list of fears, motivations, and burdens. You’ve seen many of these gals before, whether in the Barbie movie, Netflix’s GLOW, Succession, American Horror Story, etc.

Gayle Rankin plays the main character, Ruthie, and she is the one the movie follows the most.

Ruthie has ties to the hotel, with some of those memories being less than pleasant, and her reluctance to return is conveyed well. Ruthie is a veritable cornucopia of neurosis, ticks, and contradictions, and Rankin gives her all in bringing them to life.

Hari Nef (Assassination Nation), a transgender model and actress extraordinaire, plays Cal, Ruthie’s put-upon girlfriend. Whereas Ruthie is a mashup of a hippie/grrl power character, Cal is largely an innocent, ruled by her heart instead of her head. Nef really sells that codependency and all of the unhealthiness that goes along with it.

Annabelle Dexter-Jones plays Fran, the closest analog Bad Things has to Danny Torrance from The Shining, with a sensitivity to the paranormal. Fran has to be a mixture of free-spirit and femme fatale, and Dexter-Jones could pull that off in her sleep.

Rad Pereira is Maddie, the most “normal” one of the bunch. Whereas the other ladies have their own agendas for coming to the hotel, Maddie is just looking to relax and vacation. She is also the most level-headed, and when shit hits the fan, Maddie is frequently the voice of reason (which nobody listens to, naturally). Pereira makes the character’s frustration palpable.

And yes, Molly Ringwald makes an appearance in this film. I know, I know…THAT Molly Ringwald, you ask? Yes, that one! Her part is small but integral, and it’s nice to see that she still has it after all these years.

A few heady topics are touched upon during the film’s runtime: familial strife, a daughter’s relationship with her mother, guilt, relationships, infidelity, and codependency; there is much to unpack.

Bad Things

Unfortunately, Bad Things doesn’t do the best job of actually tackling those themes.

Obscurity is the name of the game here, with much left to interpretation. While the cast is fine, they’re not given the best material to work with.

The writing is one of the weakest aspects of the film. Nobody has any real chemistry with each other, despite the fact that these women all have a complicated and interwoven history. Many stupid decisions are made, some veering into the realm of unbelievability. The various deaths that have taken place at the hotel over the years are given very short shrift, which ends up hurting the whole production.

It’s also a budget feature, and that fact shows. Many exterior shots make it look like the movie was actually filmed at some corporate training building instead of a hotel. The interior shots are usually adequate, but it’s clear that corners were cut wherever possible. I think there was one prop iPhone for the whole cast to use.

When the single important male character gets attacked, with a vertical slice, the wound ends up being horizontal across his back.

The cinematography, soundtrack, editing, and wardrobe were all adequate, if not amazing. There were no technical issues I could recall, outside of a few shots that lingered far too long on certain objects, foreshadowing their return without a hint of subtlety.

For everything that Bad Things does well, it also suffers numerous missteps. I can’t say that I hated it, but it could have been so much better. There are plenty of low-budget, single-location films out there that are able to generate tension and provide solid character drama… Bad Things is, sadly, not one of them.

I have to give kudos to the cast and crew for retelling The Shining with a queer focus and for showing that women can be just as bad to each other as men, but those facets alone aren’t enough to fill this hotel’s vacancies.

Overall Rating (Out of 5 Butterflies): 3

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