The premise of Significant Other is simple. A couple goes out into the luscious woods of the Pacific Northwest for a romantic backpacking getaway. Ruth (Maika Monroe) is a little hesitant — trying to get her boyfriend Harry (Jake Lacy) to identify different flowers at a rest stop. But Harry assures her he’s done this hike twice before. Nothing to worry about, right? Well, a weird busboy comes up to their table and asks if they saw a red star. This question understandably sends Ruth into a confused state of panic — nevertheless, it’s on with the trip. The landscape of the outdoors is a ripe playground for the horror and sci-fi genres. It’s either a hulking slasher villain that comes after you or stumbling on to something otherworldly you don’t quite understand. Writer/directors Dan Berk and Robert Olsen work to subvert those conventional expectations in how they unveil Ruth and Harry’s story.

At first, everything seems fine. The couple is playful in their dialogue as they set up camp and figure out what’s for dinner. Cinematographer Matt Mitchell’s usage of camera angles and overhead shots of the forest gives off an ominous tone. The beauty of the river and trees enhances the feeling of how truly isolated Ruth and Harry are. The weird noises at night only elevate the course of anxiety slowly taking over Ruth’s character. However, if you think this is veering off into monster-in-the-woods territory — there’s a slight detour. The first part of Significant Other tries to untangle commitment and its consequences. Harry has an ulterior motive for this trip, proposing to Ruth. When the answer is less than ideal, there’s an inert awkwardness in the scenes to follow — some of which play into the sudden twist the best.

Significant Other only has an hour-and-twenty-minute runtime to play with. So, only a small amount of backstory is given to these two. More so, why is Ruth so hesitant to tie herself to marriage? Monroe’s performance elevates this premise as the film merges its sci-fi and dramatic elements. Ruth has to deal with the isolation of being with a person she rejected and the thing operating in the background. Berk and Olsen use points of view and Monroe’s ability to be frightened and eerily melancholy to throw the audience off. When the film fully embraces the horror story, that’s when the intrigue it’s built falls off the rails a bit.

Jake Lacy’s performance as Harry takes a sudden U-turn during the film’s second half. Harry is gentle and accommodating through Ruth’s inner plight. When the shift happens, he becomes manic and sarcastic. This would usually work if there were signs Harry exhibited these behaviors at first or if this film was a straightforward relationship thriller. But his personality change is tied to something I won’t spoil, which we’ve seen in other films such as this one. Within the parables of unions, Significant Other is trying to expand upon; it never really clarifies its overall message. Instead, there are some interesting ones the film lightly grazes, but doesn’t have the time to navigate fully.

What about matrimony and the grand gestures it brings that send some of us into a tailspin? Do previous examples of this failing also factor into our decisions about relationships in the future? Significant Other says yes, and there’s a considerable amount of time focusing on the physical discomfort this brings Ruth. However, when these things try to mesh with the intergalactic aspects of the story, this doesn’t hold up so well. Where the film starts as a clever way to subvert expectations, it ultimately falls prey to them like an insect crawling along a Venus flytrap.

Photo Credit: Paramount Players