Significant Other Review
Significant Other premieres exclusively Oct. 7 on Paramount+.
A couple go into the woods on a Pacific Northwest backpacking adventure and discover something unforeseen… Dun, dun dun! That’s the premise of writer/directors Dan Berk and Robert Olsen’s latest, Significant Other, which reads about as stale as campsite jerky. But surprise, surprise, the duo know how to lay out their tropes like kindling and then burn them all down to mess with audience expectations. They also wisely rely on the skills of Maika Monroe and Jake Lacy, who play the established couple Ruth and Harry, to earn the bigger swings within the script and constantly keep us guessing.
There are too few movie experiences that actually surprise these days and Significant Other exists in that sweet spot of being a strong character piece that also harbors some story turns that don’t exceed the modest constraints of the overall story. Monroe and Lacy embody Ruth and Harry as a couple with genuine affection for one another. She’s tentative and prepared, while he’s supportive but more adventurous. As they embark on a camping hike on the Red Ridge Trail, there is a strong vibe that he’s helping her overcome some fears but she’s also no shrinking violet. Spending time with them as they talk, walk, and playfully set up their campsite is understated yet revealing if you pay attention.
Berk and Olsen also use the overcast forest location for all it’s worth, leaning into the gray/green color palette to augment the main characters’ moods and actions. Cinematographer Matt Mitchell is clever with his camera framing and uses the landscape to create some very original transitions and time lapse sequences that draw us more deeply into the forest right along with Ruth and Harry. Sound designer Taylor Flinn uses a lot of ambient noises from the forest to underscore some subtle shifts in the action, while composer Oliver Coates matches that with a naturalistic score composed of minimalist strings used to eerie effect. Restraint is very much the guiding hand with all of the aesthetic choices as the story unfolds, and the movie benefits greatly from the directors not getting overly histrionic or gimmicky.
As for the overall story, it’s really well constructed and doesn’t get bogged down with script bloat or overindulgent sequences that afflict many other films with similarly compact stories. Plus, it's smart. Berk and Olsen’s use of dialogue, foreshadowing, and personal afflictions for both Ruth and Harry pay off in satisfying ways, and the dumbness that is often part and parcel of “character in the woods” stories is nowhere to be seen here. There’s logic, intelligence, unexpected wit, and some original ideas on how to upend genre expectations.
To say more would take away a lot of the fun of Significant Other. It works well because Monroe and Lacy are worth taking the journey with and they do some fine work selling a story that will genuinely leave you guessing.
This story originally appeared on: IGN - Author:Tara Bennett