Bad Samaritan: Show Pony, by David Bax
First came Cory Finley’s Thoroughbreds. Now we have Dean Devlin’s Bad Samaritan. One more makes it a trend and then it will be official: Backstories involving the abuse of horses are the in signifier of a character’s violent psychology. On the other hand, Bad Samaritan also offers another, unspoken possibility for its bad guy’s motivations, which is that he’s from the American Northwest and therefore his chances of being a serial killer are just naturally increased. Whatever the reasons for his villainy, this is a fun, clever and tense little thriller that doesn’t exactly offer a fresh take on its genre but executes it well and with a nod toward the cultural and political realities of the present day.
Sean (Robert Sheehan) is a starving artist photographer type who keeps from literally starving by working a part time job as a valet at a restaurant and occasionally breaking into the homes of rich people while they’re dining out and robbing them with his buddy Derek (Carlito Olivero). One night, after a very rude man (David Tennant) drops off a very expensive car, Sean takes his keys, looks up his home address on the GPS and is soon rifling through the man’s impossibly stylish modernist home. He’s having a hell of a time, too, until he opens the door to a room in which he finds a young woman (Kerry Condon) bound, gagged, apparently beaten and doing her best to scream for help.
That’s just the set-up, really, of Bad Samaritan, which also includes subplots about Sean’s romantic life and distressed relationship with his family and which will soon spill out from that suburban dungeon, unfolding across all of Portland and into the Oregon wilderness. Yet the movie never feels like it’s doing any more than it needs to. With the exception of some lame, awkward exposition crammed into the third act, there’s almost no time or dialogue wasted here. The plotting is tight and economical, mostly thanks to screenwriter Brandon Boyce’s commitment to organic, grass-fed stakes (Portland-approved!), instead of having Sean make the stupid mistakes so many protagonists in his shoes usually do. Sean is smart and much of the tension comes from the likelihood that Tennant’s Cale Erendreich is even smarter.
Devlin, whose only other feature directorial credit is last year’s notorious Geostorm, is best known as one of the most successful blockbuster writer/producers of the 1990s, having penned most of Roland Emmerich’s big budget spectacles (Universal Soldier, Stargate, Independence Day, Godzilla). So it’s a surprise that, visually, most of his reference points seem to be from the 1980s (plus one funny Columbo reference from the 1970s). I don’t mean the amber glow of tenth generation Spielbergian imitations that have populated so much recent film and television genre entertainments, though. No, Devlin clearly prefers the gray but shiny tactility of the works of Tony Scott and Adrian Lyne from that decade, complete with fog in the foreground to add the depth that’s removed by longer lenses.
Despite those aesthetic throwbacks, Bad Samaritan is a movie that takes place firmly in the present day. So many movies seem to come up with reasons to disconnect their characters from technologies that are now commonplace rather than write those technologies into the story. This is a refreshing exception. Things like video calls, screenshots and automated homes—as well as sinister realities like revenge porn—provide actual plot points. Devlin and Boyce may be aiming, as always, to give popcorn munchers a thrill but they clearly also have opinions on how technology has made our lives both easier and easier to destroy.
Dig deeper, though, and you’ll find a message that’s even more relevant to the present day. Sean, you see, is from Ireland. Cale is the trust fund baby of a wealthy family. So Bad Samaritan is the tale of an immigrant taking on a dangerous, out of touch, entitled, rich asshole. There’s a dose of politically charged wish fulfillment in that, which makes an already fun movie even more of a blast.