1 out of 5
Directed by: Julius Ramsay
I’ve been pretty forgiving of the Into the Dark series, and not, I don’t think, excessively so. From the start, I’ve assumed this would be B-level, DTV/DTS-type horror-lite – I mean, they are direct to streaming flicks after all, and they’re from the Blumhouse school, so I’ve never considered that a wild assumption – and, on the whole, I’ve been satisfied. When the films manage to stick to their lane but be a cut above, it’s a pleasant surprise; and when the flicks struggle to keep to the horror mandate because they’re forcefully junking some kind of message atop things, I’ve found them to be pretty poor.
The Current Occupant stands outside of these general buckets by being wholly pointless – frustratingly so, and it’s mostly well shot and has a fun central idea and good performances – and chooses an odd focus for its antics in the current climate.
It boils down to this: Henry Cameron (Barry Watson) narrates to us from the hospital bed he wakes up in every morning, questioning why he can’t remember his past as he’s shuttled through the same daily routines to recuperate from a gunshot wound. He gets a cheery message from a nurse; he gets a review with the doctor. Alston Ramsay’s script is already a little shaky – there’s sort of some fudged clarity over “I remember nothing” versus “I know my name and that I was shot,” as well as playing up the repetition of Henry’s day-to-day in a way that’s more interesting than it is – it’s not a Prisoner scenario, where no one seems to remember things from one day to the next, more that Henry just has a boring routine – but Julius Ramsay keeps things very focused on this being Cameron’s point of view, and doesn’t do anything too tricksy with the camera work, so this can slide past us as the preamble of an unreliable narrator.
Some odd happenings happen, and then Henry is told the almighty secret by a helpful nurse: he’s actually the president! And they’re keeping him on lockdown!
It’s silly, and the logic becomes even fuzzier as we skirt past the Why of all this, but I’m still enjoying The Current Occupant at this point. Some Clockwork Orange sci-fi experiments are tossed in; doctors start acting weird. It’s working. …But there’s still an hour left?
This is where the flick starts to annoy more than entertain. Too much evidence to the contrary starts to pop up for us to really “believe” Henry, including some scenes that make an eventual “twist” too obvious to the point where I’m not sure if it was intended to be a twist, and we go far enough down this road that, if the film decides to pull some type of switch at the end, it can only be an obnoxious one. The concept keeps repeating – Henry starts to demand that he’s the prez and be let free; doctors try to prove to him otherwise; the same sci-fi experiment that really starts to make no sense in the context of things keep happening – and then we descend into some purposeless unpleasantness, with Henry forced to scrub poop-smeared toilets with a toothbrush and some such.
Explanations – which are pretty apparent by this point, excepting some details – arrive with there still being like 20 minutes to go, meaning we’re subjecting to further belaboring of any potential point, and further burying of all story events behind a “…so what was the point to scene X?” scrutability.
This is stacking on top of something the flick has damned itself with: in our current environment, in which the President is a rather notorious figure, The Current Occupant really seems like it’s going to try to do something with it’s setup to comment on that. I’ve bashed on Into the Dark entries that add commentary, so I was a little on edge about the setup already, but then I started to appreciate how the movie seemed to be holding its tongue.
Spoiler to follow.
There is no commentary.
Which I realize should be a plus, but this butts up against some scenes in the flick that should have commentary, but that are rendered – as is the whole movie – completely inconsequential by its resolution, and the way that it was ineffectively rolled out. So it turns out I’d rather a movie try to make a point and fail at it, than choose a topical subject and waive hands like it’s going to make a point but then do nothing at all. This has pushed me into being one-star negative about The Current Occupant, which otherwise has some competent technical aspects and a good performance from Barry Watson.