Synopsis: A young couple takes a remote backpacking trip through the Pacific Northwest and faces sinister events leading them to realize that everything about the place is not as it seems.
Stars: Maika Monroe, Jake Lacy, Matthew Yang King, Dana Green
Directors: Dan Berk & Robert Olsen
Running Length: 84 minutes
TMMM Score: (7.5/10)
Review: When I was single, it was easy to fire up any horror movie I wanted, regardless of its scare factor. I could take the killer clowns, jumpy arachnids, dream monsters, haunting ghosts, and significant gore without losing too much sleep over it later. I may have had to sleep with a light or four on, but I eventually made it to dreamland. Once I had a partner’s tastes to consider with my scary movie schedule, things changed. Now I had to save the most frightening ones for after his bedtime or rare times I had the house to myself. And don’t even think about getting him to sit still for Arachnophobia or A Nightmare on Elm Street. (I’m thankful I changed his mind on the Halloween and Friday the 13th franchises.)
In the spirit of the shared scary experience, I suggest holding on to Significant Other for a date night with your partner. Singles, go for it whenever you want, but this new film on Paramount+ is extra fun if you are in a committed relationship. Starting like a standard domestic thriller where you think you know the game, the writing/directing team of Dan Berk & Robert Olsen take a few swift swerves. Creating a considerable unease allows the film to transform into something meaningful out of what was shaping up to be a by-the-numbers (but still admittedly enjoyable) mystery.
A streak of red fire descends from above (the cinematography from Matt Mitchell is spectacular throughout) and brings with it a creature of unknown origin that quickly finds a host to call home. While the alien gets comfortable in their new skin, Harry (Jake Lacey, Being the Ricardos) and Ruth (Maika Monroe, Greta) are in the final stretch of driving into the woods of the Pacific Northwest for a camping weekend and hiking the serene trails. More outdoors-y than his longtime girlfriend, Harry plans to use the trip to pop the question after six years of dating, even though the anxiety-prone Ruth has made it clear in the past why she fears marriage.
An underlying tension exists within the couple, or perhaps it’s just a lived-in familiarity that can set in with any long-term relationship that has plateau-d and needs to move to the next level or end. Both realize this, but only Harry is proactive enough to do something about it. The forest has other plans for them, though. After their first night, Ruth senses a strange presence around their camp, which only intensifies the next day when the couple is briefly separated. However, a relieved reunion is short-lived when a betrayal reveals a deadly secret. And that’s when things in Significant Other get unpredictable and impossible to talk about without giving away major spoilers.
Nervy enough with infectious paranoia to make you steal a few side-eye glances at your partner during the last third when Significant Other becomes more of a psychological thriller, Berk and Olsen have fun twisting our expectations around on us. Between bursts of gruesome violence (thankfully, not gory or bloody), there are a few jaw-dropping turns that are outdone moments later by something else. At only 84 minutes, there are a lot of surprises to cram in, but the tricks don’t feel like overreaching, thanks to the performances from Lacey and Monroe holding steady. Each lends the appropriate weight to their characters and overcomes the loftier esoteric ideas that start to invade near the end.
More than anything, I found Significant Other to be energizing. It’s not working with a massive budget or platform release, but it’s been crafted carefully and focused on the right elements that make it succeed. Casting the two leads guaranteed the performances were on track and the beautiful scenery became almost a character in and of itself. The special effects and make-up are used sparingly but with a consideration for their impact on what else is happening on screen. It doesn’t have quite the button of an ending I think it could have (and for the love of Bowie, please retire ‘Space Oddity’ as a needle-drop queue to roll credits), but right up until those final seconds, it maintains just the mood October calls for.