The Upstairs Neighbor

"The Upstairs Neighbor," a darkly humorous study of a young novelist's rampant and possibly justified paranoia, puts a resolutely L.A. spin on Polanski's "The Tenant." Low-budget indie, shot in two weeks, parlays good perfs and a dollop of Satanic ritual into an effective, if derivative slice of mood-driven entertainment. Fests and midnight programmers should nibble.

“The Upstairs Neighbor,” a darkly humorous study of a young novelist’s rampant and possibly justified paranoia, puts a resolutely L.A. spin on Polanski’s “The Tenant.” Low-budget indie, shot in two weeks, parlays good perfs and a dollop of Satanic ritual into an effective, if derivative slice of mood-driven entertainment. Fests and midnight programmers should nibble.

Semi-productive writer Eric, who lives on the ground floor of a duplex, is convinced that the guy upstairs — a fit fellow with arched eyebrows who also writes for a living — is tapping his phone. Eric’s anxiety mounts when he sights what appears to be a human sacrifice in progress. After boning up on the topic of the occult, Eric improvises a radical means of escape from the evil eye.

Action is opened out into a few other locations, including a trendy coffeehouse and a used bookshop, but mostly revolves around Eric’s apartment building, whose stucco walls and ceilingoffer scant comfort.

Pace is measured but never dull. Some transitions are abrupt and arbitrary. Lensing nicely suggests Eric’s deteriorating state of mind.

Performances are all fine, with an L.A. underground spin. Eerie, mournful score has the desired edgy effect.

The Upstairs Neighbor

Production: A Brandon Foley and Matt Devlen production. Produced by Devlen. Executive producer, Foley. Line producer, Danny Kuchuck. Directed, written by James Merendino. Camera (color, 16mm), Greg Littlewood; editor, Esther P. Russell; music, Bruce Langhorne; art direction, Charlotte Malmlof. Reviewed at French-American Film Workshop (competing), Avignon, France, June 25, 1994. Running time: 91 MIN.

With: With: Sebastian Gutierrez, Rustam Branamen, Christina Fulton, Kane Picoy.

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