A Quiet, But Authentic Horror Set in the Woods
Halloween season is a time for streaming platforms and companies to unleash the horrors they have been brewing for the past year or so, and, in October 2022, it looks like streaming will continue to take hold of the opportunity to appeal to the season. Horror and science fiction films have been a staple in the movie world since the birth of cinema, but as the years progressed and technology evolved, it has only become more advanced with special effects and costuming. Gone are the silent film days where the monster would rely simply on makeup and props to make a point—in 2022, the world is one’s oyster when it comes to the kind of horror content one can put out into the world. That is why it is refreshing when movies like Significant Other, Paramount+’s newest streaming release, find their way into the world.
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Long-time collaborators Dan Berk and Robert Olsen came together to write and direct the script of Significant Other. When interviewed, they describe how the idea came out of the COVID-19 pandemic, hence the outdoor setting and the fairly isolated the characters are. Filmed in the Pacific Northwest, the movie was picked up by Paramount for their streaming platform and secured funding, thus allowing a bigger budget for any future special effects, team, and talent. Fans of movies like Annihilation may find themselves liking Significant Other, which releases in time for the Halloween slate of releases.
They reunited with their leading actress from the 2019 film Villains, Maika Monroe, and cast her in the role of Ruth in this movie. She has had a recent string of indies come out, and appeared in Watcher, too, with much success. Paired opposite her is Jake Lacy, who fans of The Office may recognize, as her boyfriend Harry. These two make up the bulk of the cast, carrying the emotional weight of the story and the camera, as the majority of the movie consists of them wandering in the woods. This horror film defies the expectations of the genre in the contemporary world, taking a step back with an indie approach to creating a movie that seems simple but has a lot to say by the end.
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A Proposal Goes Awry
Significant Other is set in the Pacific Northwest, which, in its dark, murky depths, adds quite the atmosphere throughout. Even in the opening shot, which suggests the presence of supernatural activity, there is this immediate sense of unsettling urgency permeating the setting. There are two main characters in this movie: Harry (Lacy) and Ruth (Monroe). They are both fairly young, having dated for quite a bit of time, and decided to come to the remote wilderness for a hiking trip that will change their lives. Before diving deep into their adventure, everything seems like fun and games when guessing what kind of plants exists in the woods, but things are going to get strange very quickly.
When the couple arrives at the beginning of the trail, Ruth is scared. “I’m more comfortable in the ocean,” she says, looking hesitantly out into the green in front of them. Harry shoots down her concerns, promising that she will not regret this, and he has done this trail a million trails with nothing going wrong. From the get-go, their relationship comes across as slightly stiff, with Ruth seeming more withdrawn and anxious and Harry trying to fill in the time with rambling conversation. At one point, when she stops to look back and the trail, he continues without her, not bothering to stop. At this moment, the camera stays fixated on Ruth, seeing the world through her perspective.
Things begin to change, though, when the two stumble upon a cliff and Harry decides it is now the perfect opportunity to propose. As he gets down onto one knee and utters the fateful words, Ruth begins to suffer from a panic attack, the camera becoming dizzying and spinning as she frantically moves towards the edge of the cliff and reaches for her medication. However, this is only the beginning of many arguments and conflicts between the two, and when they discover a mauled deer with fungus all over its carcass, that is the first sign of something potentially paranormal lurking in these woods. Harry shrugs it off over the campfire later that night, saying whatever killed the deer won’t bother the two of them.
The second half of Significant Other takes off running after this. As it turns out, before the beloved main couple made their way into this hiking expedition, there was a meteor that brought upon a strange alien creature. That is what kills the deer, and considering Harry and Ruth are now coming into contact with the area, there is a lot of trouble and tension to be had with this strange, new force. While the first portion of the film tests the waters and lays down the roots for what is already wrong with our characters and their situation, the pacing eventually picks up and hurtles through twists and turns in the forest, unleashing the brunt of what it means to struggle through many different emotions and experiences. Although slightly fragmented at times, there is quite a bit to admire and learn from movies like Significant Other.
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A Horror Movie Rooted in Humanity
The bulk of the story of Significant Other consists of two people wandering through the woods, and when the story’s twists begin to reveal themselves, all expectations set at the beginning of the movie are subverted. It takes its time establishing Harry and Ruth as characters, introducing more horror and science fiction elements closer to the hour mark. It is a good story overall, taking time to touch on what it means to be human, and pulling the rug out from the viewers multiple times. However, the film, even with gaining a higher platform and budget for its directors, still is limited by the budget—audiences, especially during the month of Halloween, might come in expecting more. There are some fairly interesting decisions about how the natural environment, whether it is the trees or water, feeds into the uneasiness of the story.
Something key to remember about this movie, though, is that while it may slide into the genre of horror, it shifts between genres throughout, becoming a film that is quite hybrid. It may not neatly slide into the confines of genre, which makes it a little less scary and more philosophical at times, which works well in this context. At its core, Significant Other is about two people, who, after six years of dating, might not know each other, as well as they, think they do and if it comes to it, their relationship may not stand the test of time if they make it out of this situation alive.
Lacy and Monroe are excellent in their roles as the main characters—they kind of have to be, as they are the core aspects of the story. As more details are revealed and the narrative begins to explore more nuanced aspects, they both become less trustworthy. Monroe shines as Ruth, giving a subtle performance where the finer points lie within the details. Lacy, too, slides into his character’s personality and desires, stepping over a line when he defies the character’s agreement to not pursue marriage at the current time. Although their relationship is depicted as a bit uneven towards the beginning of the film, muddled through Ruth’s persistent anxiety and panic attacks, there are the little moments that show these two have spent a lot of time loving and caring for each other. Whether it is a small joke or an expression of being present, the actors and script add layers to what is happening on-screen.
A lot of the movie’s charm lies in the quietness of the scenes. It is not the typical horror movie, especially the high-budget ones that rely on many special effects and grander sets than a forest. Because of that, it seems so much more real. The two character’s isolation, as well as their connection to each other going into this, feels more authentic and relatable because the film took the time to establish a natural rhythm. Many feel unease entering a forest alone, especially when paired with mental health issues like anxiety, and some proposals do not end up with the results that everyone expects. With a tight and well-done final act, Significant Other succeeds in what it sets out to do.
Significant Other is available to stream as of October 7, 2022, on Paramount+.