Review by Sean Boelman
Dan Berk and Robert Olsen’s feature debut Villains was a genre-bending, under-the-radar gem when it came out a few years back. They’re hoping to capture some of the same magic with their sophomore feature, Significant Other, but they fail to find an effective balance to make it a particularly compelling film as a whole.
The movie tells the story of a young couple who take a backpacking trip in the Pacific Northwest, only for them to realize that something is not as it seems. It’s a film that is really dependent on the shock of its twist, but unfortunately, the narrative is constructed in a way that it feels obvious where the story is heading.
For the most part, the atmosphere of the movie is quite good. Setting a horror film in the mountains is nothing new, but Berk and Olsen do a great job of using the setting to create a feeling of isolation and suspense. It’s an interesting juxtaposition to contrast the naturalism of the setting with the surrealism of the sci-fi elements.
The biggest strength of this movie is its sound design, which is pretty exquisite. Given that the rest of the film is rather constrained in nature, the sound is really what allows the audience to feel fully immersed in the movie and its world. Without the sound work, this would have been completely ineffective as a science fiction theme.
Ultimately, where this film comes up short is its metaphors and themes, which are quite clunky. The movie definitely wants to say something about the power dynamics in relationships, but it doesn’t really have anything new or nuanced to add to the conversation, leaving the audience feeling completely unsatisfied.
Something else that the film lacks is compelling character work. By developing the relationship as if something is askew from the beginning, the audience is unable to get invested in the story, and its emotional moments do not resonate as intended. Both characters are extremely shallow, so when stuff begins to happen, audiences largely won’t care.
That being said, the leads, Maika Monroe and Jake Lacy, have exceptional chemistry, and it would be nice to see them in a movie where their talents are properly used. Monroe yet again proves that, even when she is given subpar material to work with, she can deliver a performance that is nuanced and intriguing. Lacy also shows his talent here with a performance that is not his usual charmingness.
Significant Other certainly has some very strong elements, particularly in its technical aspects, but it’s not as effective of a viewing experience as one would hope it to be. Dan Berk and Robert Olsen prove again that they are talented directors, although their script could have used a bit more work in this case.
Significant Other streams on Paramount+ beginning October 7.