REVIEW: Bad Samaritan – A Little Good Goes a Long Way

Bad Samaritan may not be a perfect movie, but it is certainly an entertaining one. The mix of dread and laugh-out-loud humor at times feels unintentional, but its very specific premise was engaging from the opening scene and never once let up. In the middle of running a scam that will make you never want to use valet parking again, Sean Falco (Robert Sheehan) discovers a young woman named Katie (Kerry Condon) chained up in millionaire Cale Erendreich’s (David Tennant) home office. Afraid of being caught burgling, Sean hightails it out of there – a move he regrets for the rest of the film and seeks to make right.

If someone’s going to rob your house, let’s hope it’s this guy.

The idea of a small-time crook with a heart of gold stopping a much more evil villain has a lot of promise, and for the most part Bad Samaritan delivers. To begin with, Sean and his best friend/partner-in-crime Derek (Carlito Olivero) are immediately likeable despite their preferred pastime of driving clients’ cars home to rob them. It’s possible that screenwriter Brandon Boyce worked a little too hard to make them seem innocuous, but given how quickly their paltry thefts give way to a much more terrifying crime, it’s for the best. And while there isn’t all that much philosophical debate on the sliding scale of morality, the guilt that Sean feels and the help that Derek provides is an optimistic statement on how good can be found everywhere.

It’s a low-budget thriller to be sure, but director Dean Devlin never steps outside the price range when it comes to special effects or settings, instead maximizing his use of reaction shots to convey the necessary horror and hopelessness of the cat-and-mouse game between Sean and Cale. This is where the performances come into play, because Bad Samaritan relies heavily on the strength of its actors to sell the story. It’s a mostly successful gamble, especially because Sheehan is such a charming lead. He rises above the material in every scene, managing to flesh out both his minor romantic subplot and his bond with Katie so that they felt genuine. Tennant has previously proven his cred as a villainous killer after Jessica Jonesbut there are a few moments that get a little too hammy here. His character is a demonic compilation of childhood trauma and BDSM nightmare fuel, but he provides a great foil to Sheehan’s con man with a conscience. While his paper-thin (albeit creepily specific) backstory is admittedly a weakness in the script, it also allows for the hero of the story to get his proper shine. Give how rare that is in recent fiction, it’s something worth celebrating.

The Doctor would be so ashamed.

Speaking of things worth celebrating, Katie’s status as damsel in distress is actually subverted very early on. Hopefully it was a purposeful choice on the creators’ parts, but nevertheless it’s an excellent departure to see her actively participating in her rescue from the moment Sean encounters her. Simply explaining her situation and giving advice on how to free her may not seem like much at first, but it positions her as more than a pretty face in danger, and hers is one of the most consistent character arcs in the movie.

Her captor, meanwhile, seems to be nothing more than an abusive control freak with a disturbing horse fetish for a large portion of Bad Samaritan – and that’s quite enough to keep the film afloat. In fact, things actually fall apart a little once he levels up for the sake of the plot. A man who once seemed like an evil mastermind with everything under his control being undone by a young man with few resources and even fewer connections was also a little hard to believe. The biggest issue though is how the tonal shift over halfway through takes the story from taut psychological thriller to more of a run-of-the-mill slasher, which is unfortunate because the pacing and mostly cerebral horror were some of the movie’s strongest suits at the start.

Despite the narrative flaws, Bad Samaritan cannot be accused of being boring. You may find yourself laughing with and at the film from time to time, screaming for the characters and because of their dumb choices, or simply admiring the beautiful Portland scenery – but one thing you won’t find yourself doing is checking your phone for the time.

Bad Samaritan opens on May 4th, 2018.