Horror movies are usually at their best when the monster or villain is an allegory for some deep seated theme or idea. When used properly, the monster/villain is a dark reflection of our protagonist and their flaws, forcing our main character to face their demons both literally and figuratively. That isn’t to say that monsters can just be monsters for the sake of gore and terror, but those movies aren’t usually to incite some deep introspection on the viewer’s part. Instead it’s for watching demons, ghosts, aliens, or Cthulhu spawn look awesome or kill a bunch of people.
At first, I thought that Something Else planted itself firmly in the former camp, using its unnamed monster as a metaphor for our main character’s deteriorating relationship in a fairly effective way. Then by the end of the movie it turned into a bloody gore fest with the filmmakers more or less revealing that there was no depth to the monster, it was just a monster for the sake of a monster. Normally I’d be a bit bummed about that. It seemed like the movie took 83 minutes assembling a beautiful puzzle only for them to flip over the table on the last five pieces. But you know, when the movie is as entertaining and emotional as Something Else, it’s kind of alright. As a matter of fact, it kind of makes the movie even more enjoyable for some strange reason.
Director: Jeremy Gardner, Christian Stella
Release Date: April 26, 2019 (Tribeca Film Festival)
Something Else follows Hank (Jeremy Gardner), a guy who has it all. He owns a bar in the town he grew up in, has a tight knit group of friends, and most importantly, has been dating his girlfriend Abby (Brea Grant) for 10 years. Things are going well for him until Abby leaves one day, leaving him a brief note, disappearing for weeks. Oh, and as soon as she leaves a horrifying monster begins to attack Hank’s home relentlessly every night, driving him into anger and paranoia.
Now I know that you think you can predict where this movie is going just from that basic synopsis. Now take that idea and chuck it in the trash. Something Else plays fast and loose with your expectations and makes sure that you have no idea where it’s going. You may think it’s a monster movie in one scene, only for it to transition to a genuinely funny scene where Hank and his pal are out hunting for it, only for his friend to start talking about alien conspiracy theories, then transitioning to a flashback showing Hank and Abby as a perfect couple that truly love each other.
Tonally, the movie is a bit jumbled, but there’s a weird cohesion to these different moods. They all serve to flesh out the relationship between Hank and Abby, not Hank and the monster. Whenever Hank tries to talk to anyone about the monster attacking his house, they all shrug their shoulders at him and instead steer the topic of conversation towards Abby’s disappearance. It’s never played as anything sinister, like there’s some deep dark secret that the town isn’t telling Hank. Those conversations give the impression that this was an inevitability. People ask why Hank hasn’t proposed to Abby after dating and living with each other for ten years, to which Hank says that his relationship isn’t important, killing the monster is. Yet the audience is never bludgeoned over the head with the message. It’s all subtly conveyed through Hank’s body language and the look on his face. Actor/director Jeremy Gardner really knew what he was doing.
This momentum all comes to a head in a truly fantastic 15 minute scene with no cuts where Abby and Hank have a serious conversation about their relationship and how they feel about their relationship. This is some of the most honest character work I’ve seen in a movie in a long time and it really does elevate the movie into something special. It’s just the two of them sitting on a porch and I was more interested in that than the actual monster.
Speaking of, this was meant to be a monster movie, right? Well the monster itself feels like an afterthought for most of the movie. It’s presence is always felt, especially for the first half, but by the time you realize that the movie is really about Hank and Abby, the monster just feels like an obligation. This leads to a climax that is emotional poignant and shows the growth that Hank went through, only for the rug to be pulled out of us by the monster. No joke, for the last three minutes of the movie, I was absolutely shocked by what I was watching and also laughing my ass off at how completely out of left field the ending was. It’s like if you mixed the slow, deliberate pace and psychoanalysis of The Babadook but slapped on the ending of Evil Dead 2. And yet it worked! The shift in tone should have destroyed and sank the movie with no hope of rescuing it, but instead it warmed my heart with how bloody and romantic it was.
I’ve seen weirder horror movies, but I don’t think I’ll forget my time with Something Else anytime soon. This is a romance movie disguised as a monster movie and I’m pretty pleased with what I saw. If you’re expecting dark chases, gunfights, and shit your pants scares, look elsewhere. The real horror here is watching Hank and Abby struggle to save their relationship and asking if there’s any way to save it, featuring an over-the-top, WTF finale of neck-breakingly bizarre proportions.