Significant Other - Paramount+ - Dan Berk - Robert Olsen
Credit: Paramount+
by Steven Warner Featured Film Streaming Scene

Significant Other — Dan Berk & Robert Olsen

October 7, 2022

Significant Other is a competently made horror diversion, but one utterly lacking in scares or thematic coherence.

In a recent interview regarding Paramount Pictures’ release of horror film Smile, studio president Brian Robbins touted the fact that the movie, originally produced for its streaming platform Paramount+, was getting a theatrical release because test screening scores were “through the roof.” As Robbins made clear, each and every film produced by the studio is screened in this manner, to ensure they aren’t losing out on any potential profits. While such hyperbole certainly worked in the favor of Smile, which opened with over twenty million in ticket sales this past weekend, it doesn’t speak too highly of those Paramount films that never see the theatrical light of day, the stench of damaged goods wafting from their streaming corpses. In talking up one film, Robbins basically shit on everything else the studio’s digital platform had to offer, a dire move if ever there was one. Not that test audiences necessarily know their asses from a hole in the ground; those looking for a laugh would be wise to check out the comment cards regarding advance screenings of David Cronenberg’s Videodrome, which can be found with a simple Google search. All of which is to say that the latest movie premiering exclusively on Paramount+, Robert Olsen and Dan Berk’s horror flick Significant Other, arrives with plenty of baggage attached to it, a fact which ultimately does the final product no favors. Neither a trainwreck nor a stealth masterpiece, Significant Other is instead perfectly serviceable, the type of movie that manages to be both moderately entertaining and profoundly frustrating, as you can clearly see what could have been had anyone involved bothered to pick a lane. A more appropriate title here would be First Draft: The Movie.

Maika Monroe and Jake Lacy star as Ruth and Harry, a young couple who are headed into the woods in some unnamed location to do a little hiking and undoubtedly get their groove on. He is sweet-natured and puppy-dog earnest, while she is a ball of nerves suffering from both depression and anxiety, wary of spending a weekend in some unknown locale. It certainly doesn’t bode well for the couple when, in the film’s opening moments, we witness something akin to a red star crashing into the woods, with an alien creature emerging and quickly dispatching of some local wildlife. But for its first half, Significant Other operates as a two-hander in which its protagonists grapple with the fallout from Ruth’s refusal to accept Harry’s sudden marriage proposal. She believes marriage puts undue pressure on a couple, as people inevitably change over time, and she doesn’t want either party to feel trapped. It shouldn’t surprise, then, to find out that Ruth comes from a broken home, though she isn’t opposed to commitment so much as the stresses inherent in social institutions and traditions such as marriage, having experienced its devastating effects firsthand. As Harry makes clear, however, their story doesn’t have to follow the same path as her parents, and for a bit it seems as if Significant Other is flirting too dangerously close to becoming yet another tale of forced couples therapy through the prism of the horror genre.

But Significant Other has a major twist up its sleeve, one that occurs at the exact halfway point and spins the film in two entirely different directions, neither of which is handled in a way that is the least bit thematically successful. The biggest problem is that writing and directing team Olsen and Berk are unable to decide what allegory they’re ultimately trying to spin, with the final product feeling splintered as a result. Are the events involving this couple and that aforementioned alien parasite a giant metaphor for how people In relationships change over time? A fear of commitment? Mental illness? All three? None? The end result is so unfocused that it’s hard to make heads or tails of Olsen and Berk’s particular feelings on any given subject, the events sometimes coming across as clever and thoughtful, while at other times landing as downright insulting. Monroe and Lacy are quite good in their respective roles, the former evincing a vulnerability that never scans for weakness, while the latter leverages his simultaneous aura of goofy likeability and smug arrogance to maximum effect, especially in the film’s second half. Olsen and Berk’s direction is competent if not much else, better than their scripting anyway, although they never once deliver an actual scare in the film’s short 84-minute runtime, which, get this, is generally accepted as a flaw in a horror film. Bonus points, though, for utilizing what could be the first use of Chekov’s Shark, and in a rather hilariously knowing way to boot. Significant Other is ultimately a prime example of major studio streaming fare: not good enough to warrant the price of a ticket, but also not a complete waste of time. At least Robbins gave everyone fair warning.

You can currently stream Dan Berk & Robert Olsen’s Significant Other on Paramount+.