Bad Things (2023) Movie Review – The movie’s interesting premise is cursed with mediocrity

The movie’s interesting premise is cursed with mediocrity

A haunted hotel in a cold, wintry setting. A foreboding room that needs a ‘no-entry’ sign on the door. A set of ghostly twins. A character who slowly loses their mind…

Can you guess the movie? We’re talking about The Shining, right?

Well, yes and no. While I’m purposefully making references to that Stanley Kubrick classic, I’m not dwelling on that movie specifically. And that’s a pity because another viewing of that Stephen King adaptation would have been far preferable to the time I spent with this lacklustre effort that shares elements of that 1980 movie. 

Bad Things lives up to its title in terms of its flawed components, including the poor direction, acting, and screenplay, but before I talk about the movie’s failings, let’s take a closer look at the plot.

The lead character of Bad Things is Ruthie (Gayle Rankin), a young woman who has recently inherited a hotel from her grandmother. As Ruthie doesn’t intend to take over the management of her new property, she decides to sell it. But before she passes over ownership of the building, she heads there for a vacation with three of her friends – Cal (Hari Nef), Maddie (Rad Pereria), and Fran (Annabelle Dexter-Jones).

Unfortunately, what should be a week of fun and games turns into something else besides when one of them – Fran – notices they aren’t alone in the hotel. She is the first to see the ghosts who have taken up residence in the property and is quite naturally spooked out by what she sees.

Fran alerts the others of her discovery but isn’t taken seriously by the women as they don’t believe her story about the haunting. Not only that but she isn’t particularly liked by them either, for reasons that are never fully explored. She did have a relationship with Ruthie, who is currently dating Cal, so that might have something to do with the built-up resentments the party have towards her. But beyond the gossip and general bitchiness about Fran, we never get to the root of the group’s dislike for their so-called ‘friend.’

We don’t get to the root of the haunting either. There is a suggestion that the ghosts were once people who died at the hotel but there is little explanation as to what actually happened to them. One of the ghosts is that of a young girl who might have links to one of the main characters but writer/director Stewart Thorndike’s abstract approach means we are never quite sure of this connection. 

There are other plot points that are under-explained too, such as those that revolve around Ruthie’s mother who fails to turn up at the hotel as expected. We know that she wants her daughter to sell the hotel – or so Ruthie says. But this is put in doubt later in the movie when we discover Ruthie might not be reliable with the truth. 

Thrown into the mix of characters is Brian (Jared Abrahamson) who was apparently in a relationship with Ruthie’s mom. He turns up to look after the pool outside and then disappears for a large portion of the movie’s running time.

We also get a glimpse of a mysterious woman named Ms. Auerbach (Molly Ringwald), a realtor whose videos are watched by Ruthie who misguidedly receives wisdom from the clips she views. This woman later turns up at the hotel when one of the main characters starts to mentally unravel. Could she be a figment of their imagination? Probably but if you have become tired of the confused plotting, you likely won’t care about her involvement in the story.

The jumbled narrative is a massive problem as it frustrates rather than intrigues. I get the feeling Thorndike wants us to look for clues to reveal the meaning of the story but if your reaction to the plot is anything like mine, you’ll be too bored to bother. If the characters were likeable, there may have been more scope for viewer investment. But as we have nobody to warm to – not only are the lead quartet unlikeable but they also have no chemistry together  – it’s easy to become distanced from the events that happen on the screen.

There are barely any horror elements either, which is quite surprising for a movie set within a haunted hotel. For one thing, there are very few glimpses of the actual ghosts who have taken up residence within the hotel setting. Fran’s first encounter with them is effectively eerie – she stumbles into a dining hall and is unnerved by the seated spectres staring back at her – but they rarely make their presence known afterwards. They end up taking a backseat to Thorndike’s baffling narrative which seems to be more a discussion on mental trauma than the supernatural, which will come as a disappointment to anybody coming to the movie for a few chills and thrills. 

Bizarrely, the movie takes a leftfield turn towards slasher territory near its conclusion. This is a surprising turn of events but a welcome one, as it promises to bring an end to the movie’s mundane plotting. Unfortunately, this ‘killer on the loose’ element never amounts to anything interesting, so we are left with scenes that are as devoid of tension as the rest of the sequences within Bad Things’ dull narrative. 

Adding to the movie’s many problems is the stiff acting by the four leads, though this might be due to the lack of direction they were given by Thorndike rather than their ability to act. With a better script, more interesting lines of dialogue, and a few repeated takes to chisel away any weaknesses in their performances, they may have made a better impression. Sadly, they are under-served by nearly every aspect of the production, although there is also the chance that they are to blame for the acting side of the movie’s failings. 

So, what we have here is another bad movie on Shudder’s streaming platform. There are far better and scarier movies on Shudder than this one, so devote your time to one of the other titles available and skip Bad Things. With its gender-positive casting and interesting setting, this could have been a fascinating movie.  Instead, we are left with something that is cursed with mediocrity from the very first scene. 


Read More: Bad Things – Ending Explained

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  • Verdict - 3/10

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