Once again, I planted myself in the plush glory of my La-Z-Boy to spend ninety minutes or so absorbing some cinematic spookery: 2011’s Occupant. What I had heard about it sounded pretty interesting; some things I read likened it to Roman Polanski’s Repulsion and Rosemary’s Baby; one tidbit even drew a line from this film to The Shining. I popped in the disc and got comfy, anxious for a little Polanski-ish creepiness…
We begin by witnessing an old woman dying in her bed in what seems to be a state of utter terror. The next morning we discover that her only relative, her grandson, Danny, is on his way to her apartment to identify her remains (we learn quickly that he wasn’t particularly close to her, so there’s no real sorrow here). Considering the unpleasantness of his task, Danny is having the day of a lifetime; outta the blue, a hottie hits on him on the street corner on his way to the apartment building. After the distasteful necessity of viewing his grandmother’s corpse, his day continues to soar when he’s told by the doorman that HE is in line to keep this A-1 totally badass apartment for granny’s rent-controlled price, which is ridiculously cheap! The same doorman, an extremely friendly guy who seems to really want to help Danny out, puts him in touch with a lawyer (who is also extremely friendly and seems to really want to help Danny out) to take care of the legalities of securing the apartment and the fixed rent (for a very cheap fee, no less!). The attorney advises Danny that, no matter what, he must stay in the apartment until he gets the court order protecting him from eviction; under no circumstances is he to leave.
Danny settles in quickly…but just as quickly strange things begin to happen. There are odd noises with no apparent cause. The plumbing has some serious issues. The hottie from the street corner shows up for dinner and a little partying, then just ups and disappears. His cat is acting strange. Why are building workers dying with unsettling frequency? What’s up with that elevator operator? And what the fuck is that hole in the closet?
I’ll leave you to try to find the answers for yourselves, should you be so inclined. I’ll just say that this film is yet another that is all about the feeling it gives you; there’s really no expository content. The story is interesting and hooked me pretty quickly, but it couldn’t hold me. Often the suspension of disbelief was hard to maintain; I can see where perhaps Danny’s sanity was supposed to be in question, but some of the shit that he does (or doesn’t do) just wasn’t at all what I think of as realistic. Sure, sure; it’s a movie; if I want realism, I should watch CNN, right? A film establishes its own reality, and this one didn’t seem to jibe with its own rules. Danny comes at us seeming like a pretty together guy, but he devolves into some seriously not-together behavior with cosmic rapidity, and there’s never a solid why given for it.
The film is well shot; the camera wanders the halls of this completely fabulous apartment, really giving you the feel of the size of the place, maybe even making you a little envious of Danny’s situation for a bit. The cinematography utilizes depth very well, and your eyes are privy to little nuances in the backgrounds without it feeling cheap or contrived. I was kinda reminded of the Woodhouse’s apartment in Rosemary’s Baby, both literally and in the filming style; the old yet regal building is a character in and of itself. The acting was overall pretty good, although in some scenes it was hit and miss; some bits of dialogue and odd interactions pushed me outta the film on occasion. Nothing really of note for the gorehounds; again, it’s primarily atmosphere and the question of just what the hell is going on that tries to power this one. There is one scene that I got a bloody kick out of, but it’s quick, and for me, its context was one of the things I found most disappointing in the film; thus, its value was kinda cheapened.
Although Occupant has merits, I myself wasn’t enraptured by it. I feel some of the praise I’d seen was perhaps a bit overdone; granted, the camera-work and direction was pretty solid, but the only real comparison I’d make to someone like Polanski or Kubrick’s work was the setting and perhaps a couple of moments. I’m one o’ those that can find merit in an ‘atmosphere heavy’ film that leaves a lot of questions unanswered for us to ponder after the credits; in this case, though, I found myself not really caring about the answers; the story just didn’t hold me or lead me to invest in the characters enough. Perhaps I missed the point (it wouldn’t be the first time), but this one let me down.
Of course, as always, that’s just my two cents.
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