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(SUB)LETS GO CRAZY
THE RESIDENT (15)
Director: John Ainslie
Screenplay: John Ainslie, Alyson Richards
Starring: Tianna Nori, Mark Matechuk, Krista Madison
Review: David Stephens
Nope. This isn’t the Hammer studios/Hilary Swank/Chris Lee film from 2011. Instead this is a moody psychological Indie thriller from Canada, which was made by the writer of “Jack Brooks: Monster Slayer” (2007). “The Resident” is in fact the alternative UK title for the film formally known as “The Sublet” in the US. It’s the first feature-length project to be directed by John Ainslie, who also co-wrote the screenplay, and it stars Tianna Nori who also appeared in the icky insect-horror “Bite” (2015). The movie has played a number of film festivals since 2015, including Phoenix and Blood in the Snow, and even a showing on TV in Canada itself. But it’s not been available for viewing in the UK until now, where it has just received its DVD and VOD premieres. YGROY goes flat-hunting for a viewing, but makes sure that the property is ectoplasm-free … and has full access to all the local amenities.
It all starts with a number of starkly shot scenes of an apartment (the “sublet” of the title) in its old-fashioned and musty glory. The red viscous fluid flowing under a doorway is probably just rusty water from the old plumbing. Most probably. Enter the young couple with a baby. Practising lawyer Joanna (Nori) is on maternity leave to care for her new arrival, whilst Fiancé Geoff (Mark Matechuk) is a bit-part actor jobbing for a regular role in TV series and a possible appearance in a high-profile film. They arrive at the gloomy part of town, in order to view the apartment for rental. The owner isn’t present (*raises eyebrow*), but leaves a note inviting them in and to decide if they’ll take it or not. Despite being a little old-fashioned, it’s still well-furnished and comfortable, so they immediately decide to move in. Joanna settles into her “Groundhog Day” schedule and caring for the baby, while Geoff is out all day trying to get work. It doesn’t take long for the young mother to have her neck-hairs bothered by the claustrophobic environment and some strange events. There are knocks on the wall and door when no-one’s there, furniture moves apparently by itself, and there are fleeting shadows. The discovery of an old diary from a previously unhinged tenant just makes things worse. As Joanna herself feels her sanity threatened by her surroundings, the question arises as to whether the sublet is haunted, or if something more insidious is at play.
There have been a number of classic genre movies that have directly dealt the “mental-illness-or-supernaturally-influenced?” hand of cards when making a psychological creep-out film. Kubrick’s “The Shining” (1980) is probably the major benchmark for that type of tormented sub-genre. But plenty of other films have exploited that form of plot, with two excellent recent examples being Mickey Keating’s “Darling” (2015) and Greg Olliver’s “Devoured” (2012). Whilst not quite as successful as those titles, “Resident” is still a very worthy piece of skin-crawling suspense.
Made on a low-budget, the cinematography makes the most of its suburban setting, with 90% of the plot taking place in the claustrophobic confines of the sublet itself. But that just accentuates the major themes of the story. Set over several weeks, the narrative expertly exploits the understandable stresses of the lead character. The whole thing is seen subjectively from her point-of-view and it occasionally makes for some very clever time-bending moments. People, objects, and time itself disappears from one scene to another and it becomes intentionally disorientating, and along with the main character you’re never quite sure what to believe. It’s not an entirely original trick, but it’s very well used here.
The film also benefits from a very solid performance from Nori, who totally carries the full weight of the plot. It’s not a “showy” piece of acting, but she subtly plays Joanna as being continually frustrated but (initially) forgiving and almost submissive towards Geoff and her situation. This occasionally gives way to moments of appropriately (explosive) reactions from her to confusing and threatening events. Take the scene where she suddenly spits up blood; her reactions are note-perfect, especially given the sequence that immediately follows that. Nori adds a great deal to the plot just with her presence. By contrast, some of the supporting characters feel a little broadly written in comparison. The Ex-Girlfriend is so immediately confrontational and hateful that it’s almost farcical. Geoff himself is such a self-obsessed asshat that you wonder what Joanna ever saw in him, let alone stay with him. But you can argue that there’s still a level of accuracy there, and as we’re seeing their actions through one person’s eyes, it could be entirely subjective.
The nice thing about the plot though, is the way that it exaggerates the very real stresses of new mothers to the nth degree. Joanna is totally isolated although there are theoretically people around her. She obsesses about her looks , her weight, her partner’s fidelity, etc. It’s all segued into the narrative in a very nice way, especially in the cyclical sense when she finds empathy with a person from the past in the discovered diary.
The themes of isolation and claustrophobia, and even the unspoken fear of others and social acceptance, are all brought to the forefront of the story in a very nice way. It’s cleverly realised in images like the razor blade on the ball of wool, and the sequence with the payphone. And that’s not even mentioning the exceedingly bloody denouement.
In terms of the whole film, it’s not entirely original in places and the pace does noticeably slacken at the mid-way point, despite a very decent (and disquieting) plot development at the same time. And without venturing towards the spoiler-zone, the final scenes don’t necessarily spell everything out for you. Much is left to your own interpretations of unanswered questions, which is either totally admirable or a little annoying, depending on your own preferences.
As it stands though, “Resident” is a very solid exercise in paranoia and creepy psychological chills. There are some minor question-marks around pacing and characterisations, but Nori pretty much carries the film, and there are plenty of creepy and disturbing moments with which to trouble your brain. Not one of those films for people looking for “Poltergeist” or “Amityville”-type scares, but a good choice for those that like the genre to mess with their head. Just don’t watch it before looking for a flat…
DVD Extras: Vacancy. Nothing extra.
“Resident” is an effective slow-burning urban chiller. It intelligently plays on the worst aspects of isolation and paranoia, whilst throwing some subtly creepy genre gang-signs at the viewer. There are pacing issues in the middle section and some characters are a little too one-dimensional, but otherwise Nori is excellent and it’s a solid well-made horror with a sense of (un)reality.
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