Hulu’s The Current Occupant Review: The President Is Missing
And we’re back with the latest entry in the Into the Dark series. In case you missed it, I reviewed last month’s movie Good Boy, uh, last month. That was in celebration of Pet Appreciation Week, but July’s release is a little more traditional. So let’s talk about it in our review of Hulu’s The Current Occupant.
It’s Been a Month–I Already Forgot What Into the Dark Is
Martha Higareda and Shawn Ashmore in Culture Shock, image via Hulu
Into the Dark is Hulu’s Blumhouse-powered monthly movie series. Using a holiday or other special occasion as a peg, they make a horror movie with a related theme. It began in October 2018 with the Halloween installment The Body, in which a hitman uses the holiday as a cover to dispose of a kill. And every month since, they’ve released a new film.
They usually hit up all the big holidays–Christmas, Thanksgiving, etc.–but they also have produced efforts tied to smaller events, like the first day of school (School Spirit). As with last year (Culture Shock), this year’s July film is an Independence Day-inspired flick. But where last year’s movie focused on some of the most powerless people in the country–the undocumented–this year’s edition goes straight to the top.
The Current Occupant Plot Summary Review (Mild Spoilers)
Barry Watson stars as Henry Cameron, a patient in a mental hospital. When we meet him, Henry’s issue is simple. After a shooting, which Henry barely survived, he apparently developed amnesia. And while his physician, Dr. Larson (Sonita Henry), cautions him to be patient, it’s understandably difficult. After all, who wouldn’t be restless if they couldn’t remember a single thing about their life before their current experience?
As such, Henry wheedles his way into Larson’s experimental study, hoping that it’ll fast-track his recovery. The treatment requires Henry to answer questions as he sits in front of a bank of monitors that display sometimes startling images. The questions themselves are also jarring. They start off simple, like basic questions about his identity. Over time, though, they turn to questions like ‘Do these pictured animals deserve to feel guilt?’ (That’s a paraphrase, fyi.) Unsurprisingly, Henry finds the whole experience disconcerting.
However, it gets worse when strange incidents in the hospital begin to occur. Another resident, Helen (Lilli Birdsell), for instance, claims to have seen him on TV. A new nurse, Eliza (Kate Cobb) implies that the rest of the staff is lying to Henry. Gradually, he begins to believe that he’s actually the president of the United States and that his hospitalization, following a failed assassination, is part of an elaborate attempt at a coup. The movie then charts his struggle as we try to determine whether he’s correct, or whether he’s simply as delusional as Larson tries to claim. What’s more likely, she keeps asking, that a president would wake up as a psychiatric patient, or that a psychiatric patient would believe he’s actually the president? (Uh, no comment.)
The Current Occupant Review
As I mentioned in my review of Good Boy, one of the biggest issues with any given film in the Into the Dark series is the plot. While I haven’t seen all of the films in the series–I’m working on it, though–the ones I have seen generally suffer from the same plot problem. Put simply, they don’t have enough of it. They come up with one idea and then struggle to flesh it out into a whole movie.
And unfortunately, my in-a-nutshell review of The Current Occupant is “hard same.” While the plot certainly is an intriguing idea, they don’t really go anywhere with it, except in circles. This storyline would have worked well as a (shorter) episode of The Twilight Zone. However, dragged out to feature length, it–like the infamous hour-long episodes of The Twilight Zone–really drags. There’s only so many places you can go in a story like this and none of them are that scary.
Because, unlike a movie like Unsane, which shows an ordinary gal in involuntary commitment, this movie expects you to feel for a maybe-president. The plight of Unsane‘s protagonist, for instance, unfolds after she fails to read fully a consent form she signs. While a bit far-fetched, it’s not hard to imagine yourself in the same predicament. Hardly any of us, though, could ever find ourselves in Henry’s possibly presidential shoes.
One could then make the argument that this ask–sympathize with Mr. President–would go over better with a different administration. However, this is the same kind of facile reasoning that leads to like, Harry Potter-tinged fan fiction about politicians. They’re politicians–they’ll be fine. Let me save my sweet thoughts for folks who really need it, okay? (Also, hashtag Read Another Book.)
Movin’ Out: The Bottom Line
There are some disturbing parts to The Current Occupant–why are all the patients so filthy, for one thing?–and interesting ideas–is anyone who would want to be president actually sane? But all of that, like the movie itself, falters under the weight of the numbing repetitiveness of it all. With seemingly little inclination to explore its more provocative notions, the movie instead returns again and again to the experimental treatment. There’s a reason why nearly all the promo images are from those scenes–most of the movie is those scenes!
So while Watson gamely does his best with the material he’s given and I do admire the courage to end on a rather bleak note, I can’t recommend this film. The monotony may be an artistic choice, to simulate Henry’s experience for the audience, but unfortunately, it comes across as merely tedious. Overall, if you’re looking for a Fourth of July horror, choose Culture Shock, instead. Or Bentley Little’s short story “The Washingtonians.” (I thought the Masters of Horror adaptation was dumb, but it was also fun, which I can’t say about The Current Occupant.)
The Current Occupant is available now on Hulu. You can find the trailer below.
Did you watch The Current Occupant? Let us know what you thought by sharing on social media or telling us in the comments.
featured image via Hulu
Salomé Gonstad is a freelance writer who grew up in the swampy wilds of south Alabama. When she's not yelling about pop culture on the internet, she's working on a supernatural thriller about her hometown. Also, we're pretty sure she's a werewolf. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.