For this movie, Devlin’s surrendered the screenwriting task to Brandon Boyce, screen-adapter of Stephen King’s Apt Pupil (1998) and Gilles Mimouni’s film L’Appartement into Wicker Park (2004), and their collaboration produces a movie that’s often suspenseful but occasionally nastier than it needs to be.
Robert Sheehan is Sean Falco, an aspiring photographer and accomplished slacker who, together with his friend Derek (Carlito Olivero) has set up a nice little earner offering an on-street valet parking service at a local restaurant that enables the pair to GPS their way back to the owner’s home for a little light burglary before the main course is finished. But their little plan comes undone when Sean takes the keys from Cale Erendriech (a snarling David Tennant) and breaks into his house, only to discover Katie (Kerry Condon) an abducted and abused young woman chained to a chair in Cale’s study (that’s not really a spoiler... it’s in the trailer). Before Sean can figure out how to release her, Derek calls to say that Cale is waiting on his car. What to do? If Sean goes to the cops, he’ll have to admit that he broke into the house. If he does nothing, who knows what will happen to Katie. Nothing good, that’s for sure.
Contrary to the film’s title, Sean decides to be the ‘good’ Samaritan but, of course, the cops don’t believe him, especially when they visit Cale’s house and fail to come up with the victim. So now, while Sean is trying to figure out how to save Katie’s life, Cale is busy turning Sean’s life into a nightmare. From this quite promising beginning, the film moves into a predictable series of events that focus on the torture of Cale’s abductee and the systematic destruction of Sean’s life, friend by family by girlfriend. It’s here that the story makes a choice to focus on the male characters in terms of action and backstory and screen time, at the expense of the two main female characters. Katie, the abductee, and Riley (Jaqueline Byers) Sean’s girlfriend, exist functionally to provide the focus for the sex and violence of the film. Other than that, they get short shrift on any character development or relevance to the narrative. I’m sure there’s an argument to say that that’s the way this genre works, but there are stronger arguments to say that filmmakers should be working harder to eliminate those excuses.
On the plus side, Tennant makes the most of his sociopathic character spending inordinate amounts of time and money (both of which he seems to have in surplus) putting in place his elaborate and nasty plans and outwitting his pursuers with his high-tech gadgetry. It’s always these elements that, for me at east, stretch the bounds of reason with these kinds of films. It’s one thing for a screenwriter to dream up these elaborate and overly staged acts of revenge and violence, it’s another to convince us that the villain would really go to all this trouble and expense. It always seems a little too convenient when the psycho serial killer has unlimited resources. Plus, why doesn’t he just kill Sean? I guess protracted revenge plans is part of being a psycho killer, but it still gives one pause when you stop to think about the logistics and plausibility of what he gets away with. The clue to the psychology of his character is given in the film’s prologue – we see Cale as a boy torturing not a small animal, but a horse. Nevertheless, David Tennant is one of those actors who is always compelling on screen, whether he’s leaping about as Doctor Who, solving the puzzle of Broadchurch or (as in this film) chaining and caging young women in his cabin in the woods where he’s at his creepiest best.
Bad Samaritan isn’t exactly a torture-porn flick, although it flirts with those conventions. It, perhaps, aspires to something more Hitchcockian than it achieves but, its misogyny aside, it’s got enough thrill and suspense to keep your eyes on the screen, even when you feel you really should look away.
BAD SAMARITAN is available on DVD from Eagle Entertainment on 05/02/2020