Movie Review: ‘The Dwelling’

Review by Jay Bowman

Back in the foggy yesteryear of 2016, The Dwelling was screened under the title Bed of the Dead. In the three years that have passed, writer/director Jeff Maher and writer Cody Calahan decided their blood-and-guts horror movie about a haunted bed murdering those who get on it needed a new title, hence The Dwelling. It doesn’t really work as a title given the subject, but the change is indicative of the rest of the film: it simply doesn’t work.

Don’t get me wrong. I’ve seen Death Bed: The Bed That Eats, so I know that it’s entirely possible to make an effective haunted bed movie. But The Dwelling manages to miss the mark on almost every level. Four friends (two guys and two girls who are otherwise interchangeable in their actual characters) decide they’re going to have an orgy in a decrepit-looking sex club. They book a room with a massive antique bed that, as we learn from the film’s opening scenes, was carved from a tree used to kill folks however many years ago. Our generic foursome soon realizes that those who touch the bed can never leave it, lest it strike them dead in a myriad of gruesome ways.

The script does some blatant hand-holding to help the involved characters come to conclusions about spooky bed: the bed that spooks. There’s a strangely imbalanced desire to explain the nature of the bed while still letting the audience draw their own conclusions that never plays out quite right and leaves much of what would make the story intriguing feeling vague and underdeveloped instead.

The biggest example of this is the subplot of Virgil, the alcoholic detective tasked with investigating the deaths of the four characters we end up following through most of the movie. It seems at first we’re watching their events happen in flashback, but somehow the leads are still alive and kicking an hour in the past even though the room they’re in has already burned down with them inside in the present, and Virgil can communicate with them through time using his cellphone, somehow interacting with the lives of people who are already dead. If that’s confusing to read, it’s even more perplexing to watch and try to make sense of. Was this a misguided attempt to give a story with a silly premise a serious edge? Who can say, but given that it never gets fleshed out it only succeeds in distracting from the rest of the movie, eventually forcing you to throw your hands in the air and give up.

Not that the plot itself is any great shakes: the vengeful spirits of those trapped in the bed (I guess?) kill wicked people who touch it through sinister manifestations and otherworldly hullabaloo. Wouldn’t you know it, each member of the group has shameful secrets that qualify them as wicked. But this isn’t a mystery story, as the presence of a detective would imply, nor is about exploring the strained relationships of the main characters as they’re menaced by the evil bed. The movie is just an excuse to watch grotesque kills and bask in gore effects, which are admittedly great, but not strong enough to justify sitting through the whole thing. If the film’s name change was an attempt to improve it, I think we can safely say the wrong end of the stick was grabbed on this one.

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