“You’re not gonna regret this,” Harry (Jake Lacy) says at the start of the backpacking trail with his girlfriend, Ruth (Maika Monroe). It’s a line that will surely not age well as the unsettling elements of Significant Other begin to unfold.
Harry, an avid backpacker, and Ruth, a novice, are on a hike through the Pacific Northwest when issues in their relationship begin to come to light. Ruth doesn’t share the same love for camping that Harry has and he sees this trip as his chance to convince her otherwise. It should come as no surprise that strange things start happening in the woods that begin to tear the couple apart.
While the film descends into utter madness, Significant Other never loses its stunning cinematography. The Pacific Northwest has simply never looked better than through cinematographer Matt Mitchell’s lens. He plays with sweeping drone shots of the lush forests and intimate close-ups of the animals that reside amongst the trees. Mitchell blends the warm, hazy images of the sunset into the roaring bonfires of Ruth and Harry’s camp. Aside from the few scenes where Significant Other gets unnecessarily fancy with its camera tricks, the film is gorgeous.
Significant Other takes a hard left turn almost an hour into the runtime. Despite this turn being fairly obviously foreshadowed, it still feels like it leads the film down a path that weakens everything that came before it. What began as a tense, claustrophobic relationship thriller twists into a lesser imitation of 1956’s Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Both films concern themselves with the eternal, unanswerable question of what it means to be alive and how love is essential to the human condition. For Significant Other, these themes of love and humanity don’t come into play until the final twenty minutes. This third act shift is tonally incohesive to the first two-thirds of the film.
Perhaps the inconsistencies come from the lack of chemistry of the two leads. Monroe has solidly established herself as a Scream Queen for the new generation with films like It Follows, Watcher, and Greta. It Follows became a cult phenomenon mostly thanks to Monroe’s performance. Lacy, with less horror credits to his name, has made a name for himself as the (sometimes) charming love interest in works like The White Lotus, Carol, and Miss Sloane. Separately, Lacy and Monroe have consistently turned in reliable, top-notch performances. However, the two of them are missing the essential chemistry to sell Significant Other’s third act themes. Their characters have been dating for six years, but it feels more like they only just met. In order for these grand statements about love and the human condition to hold water, the audience needs to believe in this relationship.
Despite its sub-90-minute runtime, Significant Other drags throughout the middle of the film. As stunning as the shots of the Pacific Northwest scenery are, they become grating as Harry and Ruth’s camping trip treads water. Their relationship is stagnant after the initial inciting fight and the conversations between Harry and Ruth are circuitous for the middle portion of the film. The troubles in their relationship are not fully fleshed out, just vague allusions to Ruth’s anxiety and her trauma involving her parents’ divorce. The audience doesn’t understand how these characters began dating let alone why they dated for six years. Significant Other hinges on the strength of this relationship, but the script doesn’t give Harry and Ruth a lived-in, realistic dynamic. These characters feel extremely one-dimensional and like they could be portrayed by any actor. There’s no specificity in Significant Other’s characters which leads to a lack of connection between the audience and the central drama of the film.
Within Significant Other, there is something interesting to be said about what makes something human. Is it how we look, how we feel, or how we talk? Is love the only thing that creates a sense of humanity? All of these questions come about in the film’s final moments with characters that feel disingenuous, so the audience doesn’t glean anything further about the human condition. Had this story been told in a short film format, it might’ve pushed writers (and directors) Dan Berk and Robert Olsen to tighten up the interpersonal drama and trim out some of the more absurd, meandering moments.
Significant Other has a promising start as a restrained atmospheric horror flick, but loses that restraint the longer the film goes on. The ending does a decent job of tying up the loose ends while also leaving room for audience interpretation. However, this conclusion does not make up for the roundabout path it took to get there.