JULY 12, 2012
Query: is a rather unique premise for a horror movie worth sacrificing anything that can be identified as normal human behavior/logic? If so, then Occupant is definitely one to see, as it has an intriguing idea that could go in several directions (and even genres - this could have easily been a comedy or a sci-fi film), but in order to work you have to just assume that the main character is some sort of alien that can never be expected to behave in a rational manner.
The concept is simple: after his grandmother passes away, a guy "inherits" a huge rent-controlled apartment in New York at a price that is simply unbelievable. The catch is, he has to stay inside it for 12 days until the court order comes through allowing him to do so, otherwise he will be locked out and the price will go way up. Being that this is a horror film, he begins to crack, and he may not be alone in the apartment from which he can't even leave to go to the corner store.
But for this to work, we have to accept several things. One: he seemingly just abandons his current apartment without notice, and even when things start going bad he doesn't seem to think it might not be worth the hassle and simply go home. Was he homeless? Did he exercise some sort of 7 minute notice allowance with his landlord? Where's all his stuff? Since he can't go to work and needs the doorman to bring him food and such, it's like the second he walked into the place his old life disappeared.
Also, everything involving Cody Horn's love interest character just made me go "Wait, WHAT?". They meet in the film's opening moments, when she just randomly begins videotaping him on a Manhattan street until he tells her not to. He then warms to her a bit and tells her where he works, and we have seemingly seen the entirety of their conversation thus far. However, she asks him why he has such a lame job (housewares) when he has a college degree - how did she know that? Later she also knows he lived in Nebraska, so I began wondering if perhaps she had been stalking him for more than just a few seconds (and not "at random") and he just hadn't picked up on her slips. But then (spoiler) she is killed while snooping around his apartment, and in the morning he doesn't seem to be too concerned that she "left" without taking her purse, clothes, camera, etc (she also would have somehow secured all three of his locks from the other side of the door). Later events give this some sort of explanation, but it's a flimsy one at best and either way isn't worth making our hero look completely daft for the next 45 minutes or so, and we never get any explanation for how she knew so much about him from randomly filming him exiting a subway.
Another thing that drove me nuts, but thankfully confined to the third act, was the music video esque "Avid farts" and overlapping footage that suggested a drunken Tony Scott making fun of himself. I get the need to show how Danny has really gone crazy, but this is not the way to do it. Color timing, camera angles... these sort of things can have the same effect without giving the viewer a headache. Digital editing is amazing in so many ways, but sometimes I wonder if it's worth it when you see how easy it is to all but destroy your film just because you can do so with just a few misguided button clicks.
Otherwise, it's a pretty cool little thriller, sort of a hipster-y version of a Polanski film (The Tenant, obviously, but with some Repulsion as well). Lead actor Van Hansis is in pretty much every frame of the film (Horn's late night snoop is the only time he isn't, I think) and he strikes a nice balance between being likable but also a bit of a prick, as opposed to say, The Shining, where only your affinity for Jack the actor can possibly allow you to sympathize with "Jack" the character. I also loved his interactions with Joe the doorman (played by the bartender dude from Smash!), who is pretty much the only person he talks to. At one point Danny orders some food and Joe offers healthier alternatives (a case of beer is downgraded to a six pack, for example) - it's wonderfully odd.
Speaking of which, I loved the slow deterioration of his eating habits. On the first night he spends in the apartment, he cooks himself a pretty great looking meal: steak, sides, a nice glass of wine - he clearly knows his way around the kitchen. However by the 10th day or so, he's eating cat food and pouring airplane bottles of mixed liquor into a glass. It's not as unique as the increasing size of the cracks in the apartment in Repulsion, but it has the same effect (and it's funny to see a guy eating cat food).
I was also impressed with the cat, which provides the movie's best scare (seriously!) and is pretty dang cute as well (I was about to leave my cats for people dressed as cats at SDCC, so maybe that played a part). But most laudable was the scene where they first enter the apartment and Danny has to drag the thing OUT of its carrier because it's afraid of the apartment (foreshadowing!) - I don't know how they pulled that off considering how hard it is to get a cat INTO those damn things, but I silently applauded them for it.
In short, an imperfect but admirable attempt at combining several things you don't often see in modern horror movies (single/small location, a male lead, FX shots). I can't decide if its flaws are ballsy attempts to hide its secrets in plain sight or just sloppy writing (the screenplay is credited to Jonathan Brett, who wrote the hilariously stupid Turbulence), but either way it adds to its odd charm. Perfect late night movie, where your presumably frazzled/tired brain can give a similar mindset to its main character.
What say you?