Paramount+ thriller Significant Other arrived on the streaming service without much fanfare, but the relatively small film is a study in efficiency, delivering plenty of tense moments and satisfying scares in an 80-minute feature film filled with shocking twists and impressive performances.
Written and directed by filmmaking duo Dan Berk and Robert Olsen, Significant Other casts Maika Monroe (It Follows) and Jake Lacy (The White Lotus) as Ruth and Harry, a couple whose romantic hike into the forests of the Pacific Northwest takes a terrifying turn when they begin to suspect something sinister is in the woods with them. As the pair’s trip turns into a nightmare, the woods around them transform from a place of beauty to a forest of hidden terrors.
Note: The end of this article includes a vague description of the film’s ending, but might be considered spoiler territory for some readers.
“We started to write this in the heat of lockdown in 2020,” Olsen told Digital Trends. “The films we were trying to get going were dead in the water because there were no films going into production. So we went into it like, ‘What would be the most COVID safety-friendly movie possible?'”
“We started with the idea that it would be out in the woods for the whole movie, always outside, with just two actors,” he continued. “Our first instinct was to try to make the movie for no money — just go out there and shoot it for really cheap. We wanted Maika, who we worked with before, to go play with us in the woods for a bit and shoot this quick film on our iPhones or whatever. But it grew from there, and we discovered some thematic things we wanted to explore in the script, and it became more involved the more we developed it.”
The expanding scope of the film pushed production back a bit, and by the time cameras began rolling, many of the COVID safety measures had been relaxed, allowing them to approach the project more like a traditional film from their side, even while the story retained its small, focused aesthetic.
For Monroe, that meant plenty of days spent shooting in the green — and often very cold and wet — forests of Oregon.
“Every day, you’d show up to work in some of the most beautiful nature I’ve ever seen,” recalled Monroe, who’s no stranger to horror films that put a clever spin on the genre’s tropes and audiences’ expectations. After earning heaps of praise for her performance in 2014’s brilliant thriller It Follows, Monroe once again plays a character with no shortage of emotional layers and insecurities brought to the surface by a mysterious, otherworldly threat. Navigating the very human, emotional arc of the film’s characters and the revelations that shape their experience in the forest became a delicate balancing act for the film’s leads, according to Monroe.
“I always love a challenge, and reading the script, I was like, ‘OK, this isn’t going to be easy.'” she said of her initial reaction to the story. “There’s a lot of leading the audience one way as something else is really happening, and finding the intricacies in that was incredibly interesting. [But] at the core of the story, Significant Other is about a relationship. It’s very simple. You want the audience to come on this ride with you and give in to what is happening, though, and to do that, you need it to be very grounded, too.”
And what started out as a convenient way to make a film while minimizing the risk of COVID eventually became a signature element of Significant Other, which unfolds in one of the most beautiful wilderness regions of the country, offering a fascinating juxtaposition of natural beauty and mortal terror.
“It’s kind of cheating in a way, because the Pacific Northwest is just so gorgeous,” laughed Berk. “We were actually concerned at certain times in postproduction that some of the areas we were shooting looked like built sets — like Endor or something. We built almost the entire schedule around the time of day and where the light was going to be, and the directionality of how things were going to look as the light dappled through the trees and all of that stuff.”
The film also concludes on a somewhat open-ended note, leaving the door open to future storytelling opportunities set in the world of Significant Other. According to Olsen, the film’s shocking finale was a work in progress as they developed the story, and ultimately reflected the filmmakers’ desire to tell a story that expands as it’s told, growing with each twist and revelation.
“The climax of the movie was always what it is in the film, with the showdown that happens between the protagonist and antagonist,” explained Olsen. “But over time, there were a few different versions of how you land that plane, whether a character gets away, and how much the antagonist pursues the protagonist. In working with the executives at Paramount, we landed on the one that’s in there, which we really love and leaves the door open, should this story be continued at some point.”
“With this film, the whole process was about going a little bit bigger than you think it’s going to go,” he continued. “In the beginning, you think this is going to be this austere, A24-like, heady sci-fi thing, and then something happens, and all of a sudden you’re like, ‘Oh, wait, there’s a little bit more going on with this thing!’ And we wanted to take that to another level with the ending.”
Written and directed by Dan Berk and Robert Olsen, Significant Other is available now on Paramount+ streaming service.