‘Bad Things’ (2023) Review & Movie Summary: A Genuinely Great Queer Update Of ‘The Shining’

If you are a cinema enthusiast who gets antsy when you hear someone say “remake”, then Bad Things, the new Shudder horror-thriller, might just change that. I myself am not particularly a fan of movies that already exist being redone, but a lot of times, it actually works out really well. And some other times, like when Christopher Nolan gave his own spin to the Norwegian original Insomnia or when James Mangold revitalized the iconic 3:10 To Yuma, remakes become kind of a necessity. Bad Things is obviously director Stewart Thorndike’s homage to Kubrick’s The Shining. Thorndike, who was, in fact, a part of the legendary director’s final film Eyes Wide Shut, has given a very interesting queer makeover to The Shining in her Bad Things. Let’s dig a little deeper.

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Spoiler Ahead


What Happens In The Movie?

As a child, Ruthie was heavily neglected by her mother (who never appears in the movie, by the way), which led her to develop abandonment issues. That inevitably resulted in her falling into a string of bad relationships and doing other bad things. Her grandmother owned a hotel in the middle of nowhere. Upon her death, Ruthie found out that it was she who inherited the hotel, not her mother. However, Ruthie’s mother has already managed to convince her to sell the property. All she needs to do is visit the place, meet some lawyers over the weekend, and seal the deal.

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But here’s the thing: When Ruthie was a child, she was callously locked away by her mother in one of the rooms in their hotel for three days with barely any food or water. That experience obviously scarred the child for an eternal, never-ending trauma, and she definitely doesn’t feel like visiting the hotel. Enter Cal, Ruthie’s new girlfriend, who seems quite nice and very persistent about taking over the hotel with Ruthie and running the business. Cal wants Ruthie not to sell, and she plans to convince her over their stay during the weekend. Cal and Ruthie have their own relationship trouble going on, as Ruthie has cheated on Cal, which has landed their romance in a fragile place. To make things trickier, the woman Ruthie cheated with is also tagging along. The person in question happens to be Fran, an intense real-estate agent who was going through cancer treatment only to find out that she doesn’t actually have it. Completing the already strange group is Maddie, who has romantic feelings for Cal and clearly disapproves of the relationship between Ruthie and Cal.

Things kick off with Ruthie, Cal, Fran, and Maddie arriving at the empty hotel. The entire place is covered in snow, and there is not a single soul nearby. The idea is to have a relaxing weekend while Ruthie takes care of her business or ends up getting convinced by Cal to keep the hotel. While the prospect of a weekend in an empty hotel sounds exciting enough on paper, for this particular group, it appears to be quite a task. They encounter a man named Brian, who claims to be a maintenance worker, hinting at having some kind of relationship with Ruthie’s mom. But Brian also hits on Ruthie, which makes the whole group uncomfortable. Things settle down once they get rid of Brian. Meanwhile, Ruthie keeps watching a hospitality training video of a woman wearing a red dress. During the night, Ruthie can’t sleep and roams around the hotel when she hears the song her mother used to play. Thinking her mother is finally here, she gets elated, only to be disappointed when she finds out it’s only Fran. Ruthie gets mad at Fran and accidentally hurts the realtor. The two eventually make up and end up having a passionate, heavily physical night together.

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The next morning, Fran can’t seem to find Ruthie or anyone else. Meanwhile, Ruthie considers confessing what she did the night before to Cal. But she eventually decides against it. Fran suddenly sees a pair of fashion models jogging around the hotel, which startles her. She further freaks out when she sees a bunch of people having breakfast in the common room of the hotel, which is strange because nobody other than them is supposed to be in the hotel. Fran keeps seeing things while Ruthie gets agitated. Cal notices something is wrong with Ruthie and wants to get to the bottom of it. While Fran wants to further explore whatever there is between Ruthie and her, Ruthie emphasizes the fact that she wants to be with Cal and that Fran is a toxic influence on her. Seeing Fran in an extremely hyper state where all she wants to do is leave with everyone, Ruthie and the other two trick her and drop her off at the station.

Back at the hotel, Ruthie, Cal, and Maddie celebrate their Fran-free time. Maddie still keeps hitting on Cal by constantly telling her how Ruthie keeps cheating. However, Cal doesn’t seem to take Maddie’s advances seriously. Out in the bar alone, Ruthie suddenly sees Fran from afar and freaks out. She keeps insisting on leaving, but Cal and Maddie ignore her and blame it on her state of mind. A masked figure wearing an all-black costume enters the hotel and clearly doesn’t seem to have any good intentions. Brian, who has come back and sneaked inside, becomes the first victim of the masked figure when he suffers a vicious attack and ends up heavily injured. Soon, the masked figure attacks Maddie and gives her hand a nasty cut. Despite Ruthie repeatedly telling Maddie and Cal that it is Fran who is doing all this, they tend to believe it is Ruthie who is doing it. Ruthie still manages to pursue Cal and Maddie about leaving and booking a cab. But Maddie drops a bomb and tells Cal about Ruthie cheating on her again. Upon hearing this, Cal breaks down, and just as they are about to leave, Maddie and Cal purposefully lock themselves inside the hotel, leaving Ruthie out in the cold. Ruthie screams and begs to get inside, telling Cal and Maddie that Fran is still inside, and she is going to hunt them down, but the two of them are obviously in no position to believe Ruthie.

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Ruthie still manages to get inside through the backdoor. After all, it is her hotel, so it is quite obvious that she would know more about it than Cal and Maddie. Inside the hotel, Ruthie meets the woman from the video she keeps watching. The woman, Ms. Aurbach, tells Ruthie that she is part of the consultant team. Ruthie soon meets with the lawyer she was supposed to meet, but instead of signing the deal, she refuses to sell the hotel. Ms. Aurbach supports her decision and encourages her further. Ruthie screams for Cal to tell her that she is fulfilling her wish by keeping the hotel, but it is way too late for Ruthie and Cal. In the midst of all this craziness, Ruthie finds a dead, bloodied Brian, and when Cal and Maddie see that, they lock Ruthie inside the same room where she got locked by her mother back in her childhood. Broken and scared, Ruthie foresees her imminent doom. But miraculously, Fran appears out of nowhere and rescues her. They make out passionately and head for the exit. All of a sudden, Cal comes out and attacks Fran from behind. Ruthie pushes Fran into the window, which breaks, and Fran lands on a block of ice, resulting in an instant death. Ruthie goes out of the hotel, and Cal follows. Ruthie finally loses it and screams at Cal, telling her it was her fault for bringing Ruthie into her trauma and getting her bad side out in the open. Maddie arrives with a chainsaw, but Ruthie overpowers her quite easily and gets hold of the weapon. A ferocious, angry Ruthie chases Cal and Maddie with the chainsaw and soon catches up to them. After that, only the inevitable could possibly happen—with Ruthie mutilating Cal and Maddie in front of a supermarket and then walking away, like nothing ever happened.


Review

A lot of Bad Things could very well be the manifestation of what is happening inside Ruthie’s mind. Especially in an extremely bizarre scene, we actually see some other people nonchalantly walking by while the bodies of two viscerally mutated people are lying around, and the person who has done it, i.e., Ruthie, is walking freely.

However, it might also be happening, no matter how insane it seems to be. In fact, I would very much like to believe that the whole point of Bad Things happens to be liberating Ruthie’s character. Not that the film tries to endorse murder or any kind of violence in any possible way, but the fact that Ruthie, arguably the most troubled character amongst all of them, gets to be free by the end is a huge statement. In fact, it sort of reverses “the final girl” phenomenon. For the uninitiated, the final girl is usually the woman who either dies after everybody else or somehow survives in slasher movies. In Bad Things, Ruthie takes that role, but the director purposefully hands over the chainsaw to her, which also makes her the one who chases after the final girls. This is a great update to a very familiar movie trope.

Speaking of which, Bad Things is a very obvious, almost in-your-face, upgradation of Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining, a fantastic film that is loved by all except the author of the story it is based upon, the legendary Stephen King. In Kubrick’s film, Jack Nicholson’s straight man goes to a similar kind of hotel in order to fix his life and relationship with his wife, but ends up giving his soul to his demons and going on a maddening rampage. That character has obviously been replaced by Ruthie, a queer woman, which is a very 2023 thing. Naturally, all the other characters happen to be people from the LGBTQ community, which is a big statement for a genre movie. What I found particularly impressive is that the queerness of Bad Things is shown as a very normal thing instead of making it a huge deal. In an ideal world, it should be as normal as anything else, after all.

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Professionally, I don’t particularly like following the pattern of speaking about acting, direction, and technical aspects in separate, constructive paragraphs while reviewing a film, but the performances of Bad Things deserve huge rounds of applause. Hari Nef, who broke out with the Prime original series Transparent, does a phenomenal job at portraying the helplessness, anxiety, and agony of Cal. Annabelle Dexter-Jones, whose most famous role must be as Kendall Roy’s on-and-off sort-of girlfriend Naomi Pierce in Succession, dons the hat of icy Fran and delivers a magnetic performance. Of course, the real deal here is Gayle Rankin, whom you have seen in so many good things like the Netflix series Glow, the HBO series Perry Mason, and many others, but Ruthie in Bad Things should make an overnight star out of her.

Coming back to why, in particular, Bad Things gives fuel to the art of remaking already iconic things, if you think about it, pulling off something as untouchable as Kubrick’s The Shining is already a huge deal. But Thorndike’s movie is not only ace at that; it also stands out as a very modern horror story of a traumatized woman. There are ample tributes here, like the corridors that keep coming back in the movie, and the model joggers are most definitely the equivalent of the twins here, if you get the reference. For horror fans, Bad Things should feel like watching a new version of a beloved Christmas movie, which works wonderfully well. It should be lauded for the amount of courage it shows, the ambitious premises, and last but not least, Rankin’s phenomenal work as Ruthie.

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Rohitavra Majumdar
Rohitavra Majumdar
Rohitavra likes to talk about movies, music, photography, food, and football. He has a government job to get by, but all those other things are what keep him going.

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Coming back to why, in particular, Bad Things gives fuel to the art of remaking already iconic things, if you think about it, pulling off something as untouchable as Kubrick's The Shining is already a huge deal. 'Bad Things' (2023) Review & Movie Summary: A Genuinely Great Queer Update Of 'The Shining'