‘Bad Things’ Review: Queer ‘Shining’ Is a Refreshing Twist on Slashers

“Bad Things” is a great amount of fun as a lo-fi slasher with a killer cast. Writer-director Stewart Thorndike’s sophomore feature, following the 2014 breakout film “Lyle,” is a queer take on “The Shining,” centered on a deserted motel in a sleepy snow-filled suburb. Gayle Rankin (“GLOW”) leads the film as Ruthie, the heir to the Comley Suites, who also has a traumatic tie to the hotel itself.

Ruthie and her three pals, including girlfriend Cal (Hari Nef), hole up for a weekend getaway at the campy motel, which has been in disrepair ever since Ruthie’s grandmother died. Ruthie’s mother is somewhere roaming the property, but she keeps dodging both Ruthie’s texts and her hook-up handyman, Brian (Jared Abrahamson). Tensions mount as Brian lingers around and Cal waits for Ruthie to propose, despite her being unfaithful with Fran (a delicious Annabelle Dexter-Jones), who is Maddie’s (Rad Pereira) friend with benefits.

Yet the main foursome prefer to focus on the undead instead of their very alive dramas: Maddie and Cal trade stories of past Comley Suites guests, including ’80s models who went out for a jog and never returned. “Ghosts are going to be really good for the brand,” Cal teases. It’s only when the spirits come back to haunt the core friend group that it seems spirits are no longer sexy.

Ruthie’s own horrific childhood experience at Comley is uncovered later on: Her mother dropped her off at the closed hotel during a snowstorm, only for Ruthie to almost lose three of her fingers to frostbite and starve over days until she was found. To distract herself from her inner demons, Ruthie becomes obsessed with watching a hospitality consultant, portrayed by a pitch-perfect Molly Ringwald looking like she hasn’t aged a day since the ’80s herself. Ruthie imagines her as a surrogate mother…while also masturbating to her commanding image.

“Bad Things” leans a little too strongly on “The Shining” inspiration at times, complete with a bar scene homage. However, the film’s lo-fi quality and stellar cast chemistry makes the feature an easily watchable horror film. Dexter-Jones’ deadpan delivery is reminiscent of a sultry Wednesday Addams; coupled with Nef’s inherent lovability, the duo’s comedic timing grounds the film, especially while Rankin becomes more and more unhinged.

“Bad Things” blunders when it comes to the action sequences, but the campiness is part of the charm. The film constantly questions what is real or not, who is alive and who is dead, and what are ghosts or Ruthie’s own memories. Thorndike, who is among IndieWire’s queer filmmakers to watch, shines best in the first half of the feature with lingering shots on the emptiness of both the vast hallways and Ruthie’s own morality. It’s only when Ruthie is wielding a chainsaw in a feral state of desperation that “Bad Things” tips too far tonally, but “Bad Things” is still a very good time.

Rating: B+

“Bad Things” premiered at the 2023 Film Festival and will be released by Shudder on Friday, August 18.

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