A nifty little suspenser bordering on horror, Sam Zalutsky’s first feature puts a gay spin on creepy-apartment-building-entrapment scenarios a la Polanski’s “The Tenant” and “Rosemary’s Baby,” sans supernatural elements. Well-crafted tale of a guy who moves into the wrong flat and finds himself dealing with crazies is smart and offbeat, though perhaps too modest for theatrical exposure. Fests beyond the gay circuit might want to take a look. Specialized cable and DVD prospects are solid.
Jeffrey (Daniel Sauli) is a young New York architect, first seen in bed with the strapping Rene (Julien Lucas). But when Jeffrey’s possessive flatmate Nicki (Heather Alicia Simms) interrupts their afternoon delight — ostensibly to hand over Jeffrey’s unruly dog Max — Rene shrugs off further contact, telling his smitten sex buddy, “You’re a sweetheart. … I am not a sweetheart.”But Jeffrey won’t give up so easily. When he by chance sees Rene enter a building, he lets landlady Gladys (Patti D’Arbanville) mistake him for a potential renter and ends up taking a vacant flat. No matter that Nicki is furious, or that Rene turns out to be living with a long-term lover, or that he’s far from pleased to discover his ex-trick has moved in.
What looks at this point like a gay male “Fatal Attraction,” however, swerves in another direction entirely as not-so-sympathetic Jeffrey goes from incipient villain to victim. Obsessing over Rene, he ignores various unrelated red flags — from Gladys’ invasive “motherly” attentions to the dried-blood-looking paint job in the hall to the fact that his apartment’s last tenant fled so hurriedly he left all his clothes and possessions behind. When that MIA renter’s presumed boyfriend shows up drunk and hysterical one night, demanding to know where he’s gone, Gladys offers Jeffrey an unsatisfactorily vague explanation of the prior resident’s departure. Soon thereafter, he hears faint cries for help coming from beneath some rotted floorboards, where Gladys lives one floor down.
Small-scale urban gothic avoids excess genre deja vu via crisp execution, quirky character writing and a credible sense of real-world peril. Perfs are solid, with vet D’Arbanville nicely underplaying a figure who could have easily become a camp monstress from the “Baby Jane” era. Ending could be punched up, though, especially in visual terms, as the fadeout feels abrupt and uninspired given all the conflict that precedes it. Confident package makes the most of the purported $200,000 budget.