Director: Dean Devlin
Screenplay: Brandon Boyce
Starring: Robert Sheehan, David Tennant, Kerry Condon, Carlito Olivero
Duration: 106 minutes
BBFC Certification: 15
Bad Samaritan, Dean Devlin’s second full length film project as a director, follows amateur burglar Sean Falco (Robert Sheehan) who accidentally stumbles upon a kidnapped woman in the house of a target, and soon finds himself pursued by her captor (David Tennant).
The set-up of the film is very paint-by-numbers, with scenes following each other in a way that made me feel like I was watching Boyce and Devlin tick things off a list. Endear us to his protagonist (by showing him being nice to his girlfriend), make us feel sorry for him (by revealing he has a difficult relationship with his step-dad), then set up the foundation for the story (by making him hang out with his fellow burglar friend). It’s hard to find a reason to care about any of this when it doesn’t particularly feel like much care has been put into presenting it.
The rest of the film plays out very similarly, hitting familiar story beats that have been tread many times before. There is no real moment of surprise at any point, or a way the film diverges from any of the other thousands of suspense thrillers out there. Not every film has to entirely re-invent the genre, but there should at least be something about it that makes it stand out: a unique twist in the narrative, clever visuals, or a perspective we haven’t seen before.
I tried to find any of this in Bad Samaritan, because I went into it wanting to like it, but I came up empty. The fact that Sean Falco is himself no goody two shoes for example, and therefore not your typical heroic protagonist, could have been interesting. This goes not only for how the police perceives him in contrast to rich and charming Cale, but especially how the audience’s sympathy might be misdirected.
Even here however, the film never fully commits to this angle. Diegetically this does lead to moments like police scoffing at his testimony due to his rap sheet. But the film is so pre-occupied with making sure we care about the protagonist’s fate that it never lets him stray from the “Good Guy” side anyway. From playing him off against his greedier and ruder friend, so his thievery seems less bad in comparison, to showing us that he gives stolen goods to his mother as a birthday present, so we know he’s not entirely selfish; the writing is both transparent and bizarrely intent on smothering the one interesting dynamic in this film.
Cale Erendreich as a villain is similarly predictable, spouting rote and cheesy villain dialogue about his God complex that seems weirdly out of place among the otherwise fairly down to earth writing. David Tennant does his best with the script he is given, but even though he has already proven that he can make for a genuinely scary villain (Jessica Jones comes to mind), not even he can really manage to make the lines menacing instead of funny.
The music doesn’t do much to add threat to the film either, and in fact the foreseeable rising of string instruments during tense scenes is tiring enough to actively take tension out of it. The most unnerving scenes in the entire film are the ones that are entirely silent, with only the protagonist’s breathing to keep us anchored.
There are a few moments that genuinely work, most notably the moment in which Sean first finds the abducted girl in Cale’s house, her face appearing suddenly out of the darkness during the flash of his camera. Similarly, Sean being menaced in the shower by Cale is an interesting gender flip in a film in which gender roles are otherwise quite traditionally assigned, with the women playing supporting roles in men’s lives. (At one point, the “What if she was your sister?” cliché is said word for word.)
The visuals are elementary but work well enough. “It’s not about you, it’s about the light behind you,” Sean says to his girlfriend as he’s photographing her at the start of the film, and this motif plays out throughout the rest of the film. Characters are silhouetted against slick, modern architecture or backlit against empty streets, with most of the film taking place in darkness without feeling dreary.
All in all, Bad Samaritan never fully hits its stride, despite great performances from both lead actors. Fans of the genre may still get enjoyment out of it, so long as they don’t expect it to have anything to say they haven’t already heard before.
Bad Samaritan releases on DVD on the 8th of October.