How well do you know the person that sleeps beside you? Even the most intimate relationships have their struggles, but how well does that person know you? If you had a sudden change in your behavior, how would they respond? Directors Dan Berk and Robert Olsen (Villains, Body) have created a rollicking body-snatcher film with Significant Other that gnaws at the nature of traditional relationship views. Led magnificently by scream queen Maika Monroe (Watcher, It Follows) and The White Lotus’ Jake Lacy, Significant Other is a taut sci-fi thriller full of surprises.
Loving couple Ruth (Monroe) and Harry (Lacy) set out on a backpacking trip in the Pacific Northwest, unaware that an asteroid has recently crashed in the area they intend to make camp. Suffering from panic attacks, Ruth is thrown for a loop when Harry proposes to her amid a scenic landscape. The strong relationship Ruth believes she’s found with Harry, to whom she’s communicated that she doesn’t want to change through traditional marriage, is strained at the start of her trip by his proposal. Ripples of the event are felt in the coming days as the couple drift away from their togetherness and search for solace in short walks on the trails alone. After a weird run-in with something in the night, Ruth encounters a strange substance in a cave and returns changed.
The location is gorgeous, albeit covered by the dreary gloss of a gray colorization. This method does help provide brightness to the trees and other forest flora and reminds us of classic X-Files episodes that utilized similar colorization. When Ruth comes across the alien muck, the two elements are mixed. This is a kudos to cinematographer Matt Mitchell and art director Whit Vogel. They have worked together to produce the haunting atmosphere of Significant Other by presenting the alien substance with a similar bioluminescent vibrance and giving it a dark gray look, a mixture of what we see visually in this environment.
Ruth’s new personality is a bit more stoic, compliant, and dissociated from the spirited woman fighting for an unlabeled monogamous relationship moments earlier. The other shoe drops when she asks Harry to return to the spot where he proposed and do it again with the guarantee that she’ll accept this time. Malicious intent is implied, but Significant Other flips a switch, bringing unseen turns in the second act that build, twist, and escalate straight into a fatalistic finale.
First, I should acknowledge how well the trailer for Significant Other was cut. Where my initial knee-jerk reaction was that it may have given away a little too much, the assessment in my trailer review that “nothing is at all what it seems” is very much on point. Everything in the trailer maneuvers around the movie’s actual plotline showing you scenes from the film but manipulating the storyline. While that misdirect can often be dangerous for audiences expecting a film to swerve in a particular direction, I found myself enjoying the assumptive measures being disregarded and the film heading in an alarmingly different direction.
Neediness and stalker-like mentalities get mistaken for romance as control and assimilation become the domineering qualities in one-half of the characters’ partnership. It’s a real clinger situation born out of a pod person, and the sudden change delightfully creates a slasher quality in a sci-fi film set in the woods. While Significant Other may share those qualities, it never traps itself into a simple hack-and-slash horror film. The smart script work uses those mechanics to create a suffocating relationship where individuality is the part being smothered.
I genuinely like when environments become unsafe and unsettling for a completely unaware character. That is terrifying to me, especially when you appreciate the characters. Berk and Olsen often set these types of scenes up with the pulsating vision erupting in the corners of the screen and a Snorricam to capture Ruth’s panic attacks and allow creepy crawlers to move around over shoulders and the background. These small, effective directorial choices build atmosphere and help the audience see the vastness of these woods for the isolation of the trees around us. Anything could be and is skulking around our characters, and that gravity provides a tightness, even in the open space.
Metaphorically speaking, I love a lot of what Significant Other accomplishes. A perfect relationship taxed by a marriage proposal, open spaces made isolative, the color of dreary and bright coming together in a paranormal ooze, and using panic attacks whenever Ruth’s world begins to feel too tight for her. There are a lot of categorically depressing elements within Significant Other that speak to relationship freedom and how closing it off can feel like the end of the world. Berk and Olsen struggle with the identity portion of this in the film, perhaps feeling its intrinsic, but when a woman chooses to marry and take her partner’s last name, it’s often akin to becoming a different person. The loss of individuality and the confinement of only being associated with the other person in that relationship.
For the most part, Berk and Olsen have thought through this sharp and fun film and delivered a worthwhile watch that will certainly live up to the scrutiny of realism for its coupling arguments. The sci-fi horror aspects of the film will be more debated, some will sneer, but I found Significant Other to be a blast of fast-paced sci-fi thrills. As far as its overall story is concerned, Significant Other doesn’t reinvent the wheel or anything in how it delivers its plot. Hell, its opening shot felt reminiscent of everything from The Blob to Killer Klowns or Aliens Vs. Predator: Requiem, while its themes reflected a less-bleak Melancholia. But, even if there are some generic frills, there’s magnetic originality in the writing, directing, and how the characters tell this story. In essence, you’ll have a great time watching Monroe and Lacy embody these characters and work out their problems, even if it feels a little like something you may have seen before.
Significant Other is now playing on Paramount Plus.