Okay, it’s Sunday, I’m hung over and don’t really feel like moving around too much, so that must mean it’s time for me to zone out in front of a couple random horror flicks on Hulu and then pass the savings on to you. So here we go.
First up, Occupant from 2011. I just picked this one because the cover looked eerie and interesting, and I got lucky, because it turned out to be a great choice. As I was watching it, I was reminded very strongly of Roman Polanski’s The Tenant (and Repulsion, to a lesser extent), which is a very good thing, and afterwards I was browsing some other reviews of it and noticed that pretty much everyone else had also picked up on the resemblance. However, it seemed like most of the other reviewers thought the film was just mediocre or left too many unanswered questions. I had a much different opinion.
The setup is basically this: Danny is a New Yorker who is summoned to his grandmother’s huge, beautiful apartment after she dies of a heart attack. The aggressively helpful doorman Joe tells Danny that the apartment was rent-controlled; granny was only paying $675 a month for a 3,500-square-foot Manhattan showplace that would easily go for ten grand a month on today’s market. Joe sets up a meeting with a lawyer friend, and the lawyer tells Danny that if he is willing to essentially squat in the apartment for twelve days until a court order comes through granting him legal tenancy, then Danny can have the apartment at the same crazy-low rent, since Danny is the grandmother’s only living relative. The only catch is, the building management will obviously not be happy with this little loophole arrangement, so Danny cannot leave the apartment for any reason until he gets the court order, or the management will lock him out. Joe and the lawyer tell Danny to lock himself into the apartment and not let anyone in until everything is sorted. In the meantime, Joe will bring him groceries and anything else he might need. Danny, knowing a great fucking deal when he sees one, agrees.
And then, because this is a horror movie, things start to get strange. I don’t want to spoil too much (though I can’t really help but spoil it a little bit), because I do recommend you guys watch it, but if you saw The Tenant, you know what kind of creepy, ambiguous vibe you can expect. Just like in the Polanski film, you’re really not sure if there’s something supernatural going on in the apartment, if Danny is simply losing his mind due to cabin fever and lack of sufficient human interaction, if Joe and the lawyer are messing with his head for some bizarre reason, or if it’s some combination of those scenarios. Everyone Danny interacts with is shifty and weird, and there seemingly isn’t any reason for it. There are lots of little unexplained details that could suggest any number of things, and although a lot of reviewers complained about these, I actually thought they were very effective in making the movie such a riveting, unsettling experience. For instance, why was Joe so adamant that Danny live in the apartment, and what was with his oddly paternalistic and almost sexual interest in Danny? What was up with the girl that was “stalking” him for her vlog? What was up with the painter who fell to his death? Why were there scratch marks on the headboard of his grandmother’s bed? Did his grandmother really die of a heart attack? What was with the mobbed-up exterminator guy, and why did he spray the cat with insecticide? Were the cable guy and pizza guy really there because Danny called them and forgot, or was someone sending them there to lure him out? What was with that hole in the wall in the closet that looked like it was breathing? What about the neighbor who claimed he’d met Danny before, even though Danny didn’t remember it? Nothing is as it seems, and none of the weirdness really has any definitive answers. That might piss some people off, but I found it intriguing, and in fact, the whole WTF vibe of the movie was actually my favorite thing about it; it was all so pleasantly disorienting and claustrophobic. Polanski comparisons aside, it actually also reminded me of one of my own short stories that I wrote many years ago, called “Three Stories Down” (available in my Associated Villainies collection), in which I tried to conjure up a similar surrealistic feeling (also in an apartment building setting, as it happens) without really explaining anything outright.
In sum, I heartily recommend this to Polanski fans, or people who like their horror with a healthy dollop of psychological ambiguity and don’t need everything to be clear cut.
Next up is a British supernatural-type thriller, Knife Edge from 2009. It’s about an English woman named Emma who leaves her job as a hotshot Wall Street stockbroker after marrying a wealthy Frenchman named Henri. Henri takes Emma and her son from a previous marriage Thomas back to England to live in a massive country mansion he purchased three years previously. Once there, Emma begins to see visions and hear things in the house that lead her to believe that it is haunted. Henri doesn’t believe her, the marriage starts to fall apart, and then things get really convoluted and increasingly ridiculous until it all ends with an over-the-top kinda murdery flourish.
This one actually wasn’t bad; I enjoyed it and the mystery kept me interested all the way through. Director Anthony Hickox has done some work in the horror genre before (Waxwork and Hellraiser 3, for example), and I guess this was something of an anticipated return to form for him, but I definitely felt like something was lacking with this film. The acting was pretty uneven, and the pacing felt a bit strange, too rushed in places where more depth would have been appreciated. The premise also wasn’t terribly original, it must be said; there was the standard old British mansion, creepy dolls and trees, a kid’s “imaginary” friend, psychic visions of a past tragedy, the unclear motives of everyone around the protagonist. The answer to the mystery, while I didn’t completely figure it out beforehand, strained my credulity a bit; it just seemed far too complicated and silly a scheme to ever work the way it was supposed to. There were some decent scares, a bit of gore, and some nicely eerie imagery, but overall I found it just sort of middle-of-the-road. I’d recommend it if you’re into British murder mysteries and don’t mind some overwrought melodrama; you’ll probably enjoy it if you don’t expect too much. It honestly seemed more like an episode of a mystery-type TV show than a movie. If that doesn’t turn you off, then by all means, knock yourself out.
That’s all for this double feature installment. Until next time, keep it creepy, my friends. Goddess out.