The new horror movie Significant Other asks the question, “Is camping in the vast wilderness truly scary?” Despite Harry (Jake Lacy) trying to assure his anxious girlfriend (Maika Monroe) that everything’s okay, the actual answer to that question is of course, yes…
It has been an exciting year for horror fans. Besides the return of several beloved franchises, original movies like the recent Smile, Barbarian, and notably, gore fest Terrifier 2 are doing bigger numbers. Hidden among the new, original horror is another new movie that’s one of the most interesting, and surprising of the year.
Robert Olsen and Dan Berk’s film can’t be labeled or cornered into a box because it’s not simply one kind of movie. It transforms into several throughout; each time, unexpectedly.
The film opens with the image of a red star falling from the sky, followed by an off-putting, Predator style sound slithering through the woods, which makes its way towards a nearby deer.
Immediately after, we meet Harry and Ruth. A couple of six years, on their way to a camping trip – planned by Harry -in the beautiful Pacific Northwest wilderness.
The setting is its own character- symbolizing Ruth’s plaguing fear of the unknown. A later shot blended from the couple fireside at night into a sea of trees beautifully captures the expansive silence surrounding them.
The duo are briefly explored (mostly at surface level) but enough to get their dynamics. Harry is charming, if not a little awkward. But he’s committed, and planning to propose on top of a picturesque mountain.
Ruth- more quiet, and prone to anxiety- is less eager to settle down, partially due to her parents’ divorce. But she’s also unnerved, seemingly aware of something ominous. Harry subsides her fears by explaining there’s more danger in her preferred activity of surfing than their present hiking adventure.
Eventually, he proposes as planned, and Ruth responds by having a panic attack. She later explains, “I’m with you because I love you – isn’t that enough?”
Her views on love and relationships are more fluid, and lax, and Ruth tells Harry, “Some day you’re gonna change; maybe that new version of you will love me, maybe it won’t.”
The opening half hour of Significant Other is quiet. The vast Oregon woods, combined with the couple’s dampened mood post-proposal, illustrates a mysterious, atmospheric tone that’s jolted by several jump scares – four to be exact – reciprocated between Harry and Ruth, who each take several solo walks through the woods. And while mostly basic, they’re each effective; brilliantly reflecting a feeling of paranoia, mistrust, and subtly asking the question, “Do we ever really know our partners?”
Ruth stumbles onto the same deer from the beginning on one of her walks. It’s been ripped apart and covered in a weird substance. During a later walk, she wanders into a cave, and is scared by something not visible to us. After this, she’s different.
The movie takes its first big turn here- feeling like a meditation on relationships and mental health. Brian De Palma style split-focus diopter shots of the couple illustrate how disjointed they are from one another with effectively created tension.
Harry, alarmed, says she’s always stressed, and she seems paranoid. But what is Ruth hiding? And what did she find in the cave?
Maika Monroe has perfected the smart, suspicious female and she does it again here with quiet depth. The crinkles and muscle movements of her face and forehead poetically replace dialogue, and say so much – without actually telling us anything.
The next day Ruth tells Harry she’ll accept his proposal but she wants to recreate it. He does, she accepts, and then pushes him off the mountain to his death, and runs away. After passing out, she’s found and helped by another couple hiking nearby.
Here, Significant Other takes its second drastic, unexpected twist, going from A24 style mystery to supernatural sci-fi horror.
The rest of the movie is an epic battle that goes in many surprising directions – and culminates in another twist that transforms the genre again. This time to body horror – reminiscent of movies like Under the Skin, and Hulu’s Blumhouse original Tentacles.
Other horror movies are of understated importance here, and their influences are clearly scattered throughout the movie. From the above body horror, and De Palma references, there are also elements of Terminator 2, Body Snatchers – and even shark movies.
Essentially, it’s about the monsters we battle- both the outward forces, and the inward ones. It plays with the notion that we never truly know our partners – or importantly, even ourselves.
Ruth battled her demons long before we met her, and she changes a lot through the course of the movie; but she still can’t escape herself. And her wide range of emotions are built up by Monroe with subdued effectiveness.
In fact, directing duo Berk and Olsen, who worked with Maika on Villains, said they wrote the part specifically for her- and had her real personality in mind while doing it.
Monroe’s quiet performance is balanced by Jake Lacy’s now signature wit and humor – he builds up to it here with levels of accurate, yet shocking proportions.
What makes Significant Other most surprising is its unwillingness to play by the typical horror movie rules. That’s also what makes it one of the year’s best. It refuses to be relegated to one set thing, instead seamlessly moving between several genres and endlessly playing with our expectations. Even up until the end, its non conventional conclusion raises more questions than answers.
Most of all, it does all this in an easily digestible 84 minutes. In the movie’s short run, it manages to challenge our assumptions of what it is – always staying a step ahead. Personally, I’d prefer a longer movie that continues, and explains more of the story. But in an hour and 24 minutes Significant Other delivers a fun, original idea that’s one of the best horror movies of 2022.