Review: Bad Things Turns an Abandoned Hotel, and Family Drama, Into Something Tense and Unnerving

In something of a queer-friendly, feminist take on The Shining, writer/director Stewart Thorndike (Lyle) sets her latest tale of twisted motherhood, Bad Things, in an abandoned boutique hotel. The property was recently inherited by Ruthie Nodd (Gayle Rankin, GLOW) from her beloved grandmother, who wisely didn’t leave the business to Ruthie’s mother, who would have simply sold it for the cash and run off somewhere tropical with a man much younger than herself. Instead, Ruthie and three friends decide to check the place out for a few days and see how much work really needs to be done to possibly turn it back into a working business. The combination of traumatic childhood memories and the local legends that ghosts inhabit the place leads to the glorified slumber party becoming something of a nightmare.

Ruthie brings along her partner Cal (Hari Nef, now featured in Barbie), their close friend Maddie (Rad Pereira), and the mysterious Fran (Annabelle Dexter-Jones), with whom Ruthie had a brief dalliance that almost tore apart her relationship with Cal. Fran is trouble from the get-go, someone who doesn’t have any issues openly flirting with everyone, especially Ruthie. So when strange things start to happen in the hotel, naturally everyone wants to blame her. 

Bad Things is less a seamlessly told, singular story and more a collection of moments that combine to set a truly eerie tone that mostly seems to target the characters when they’re alone and vulnerable. Since Ruthie effectively grew up in this place, the hotel seems to know exactly how to push her buttons. She spends a great deal of time watching videos on her phone of a woman giving a talk about how to successfully run a hotel; it turns out this figure is her mother (Molly Ringwald), whom Ruthie hasn’t seen in years, aside from the aforementioned dramatic will reading. Although mother seems to love texting, the two are estranged. As a result, Ruthie’s relationships with her friends mean a great deal to her, so she tries to combine what is essentially a work trip with a bit of partying, dancing, and a bit of fighting.

Indeed, former guests of the hotel (who may have died there in freak accidents) periodically pop up and show themselves almost casually to one of the four friends. Some take the form of overdressed joggers, clomping through the hallways or in front of the hotel, while others take on more grotesque forms. The more influence the hotel has on these four friends, the more they start to behave very badly toward each other (as well as the one male character in the film, Jared Abrahamson, who has been maintaining the hotel while it has been empty, while also making time with Ruthie’s mother, who sometimes lives there).

The film is more of a psychological endeavor than a flat-out horror movie, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a character who attacks other characters with a chainsaw. The relationships don’t always make sense, a lot of the dialogue feels improvised (and not skillfully), but there’s something to really appreciate about these four characters, especially the tumultuous romance between Ruthie and Cal, which runs the gamut of emotions and turmoil. 

Director Thorndike does find ways to make this completely un-scary, run-of-the-mill hotel seem creepy almost because of its familiarity. It’s admittedly unnerving seeing a place that would normally be teeming with guests completely empty. But Bad Things isn’t scary in big ways; the tension comes in smaller, more contained doses. I wish the movie had a little more going on and a more structured plot that felt fully thought out, but there’s still something here I think is worth checking out, and it especially works as a perfect companion piece to the filmmaker’s one previous film.

The film is now streaming on Shudder and AMC+.

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Steve Prokopy
Steve Prokopy

Steve Prokopy is chief film critic for the Chicago-based arts outlet
Third Coast Review. For nearly 20 years, he was the Chicago editor for
Ain’t It Cool News, where he contributed film reviews and
filmmaker/actor interviews under the name “Capone.” Currently, he’s a
frequent contributor at /Film ( and Backstory Magazine.
He is also the public relations director for Chicago's independently
owned Music Box Theatre, and holds the position of Vice President for
the Chicago Film Critics Association. In addition, he is a programmer
for the Chicago Critics Film Festival, which has been one of the
city's most anticipated festivals since 2013.