The Sublet (2015)
Dir. John Ainslie
Scr. Alyson Richards, John Ainslie
Starring: Tianna Nori, Mark Matechuk, Krista Madison,
Rachel Sellan, Liv Collins, Mary-Elizabeth Willcott
Review By Greg Klymkiw
There are many creepy things about The Sublet. One of the creepiest is the sublet itself and everything it represents. When a young couple (Tianna Nori, Mark Matechuk) and newborn baby move into a mysterious walk-up flat, they should in all likelihood, have figured out that something wasn't quite right.
Sometimes in life and almost always in the movies, such ciphering proves elusive.
Besides, the price and location are right and the place itself is so spacious and comfortable that eccentricities like communicating with a landlord by note might be weird, but what's a bit of eccentricity when everything else seems so perfect?
But that's not all. The place is graced with furniture and tchockes from the previous longtime tenant. Most of it seems just fine, but some of it clearly belongs to someone (or, God forbid, something) that's completely and utterly bunyip.
Queerly, it turns out the flat's address is not even registered as an address with any of the local cable, phone and internet companies. Yeah, that is weird, but it could also be seen as a blessing in disguise.
One of the ickier elements in the flat is the one locked door and no key to go with it. Our couple assume the room is storing private property. Curiosity will, however, eventually rear its ugly head. And curiosity, as we all know, is what killed the cat.
All of this aside, what might really worry me, is the disturbingly ghoulish homeless woman who always stands outside, looking up and drilling holes of both fury and despair into the flat's windows. One might always be wondering, fearing if the lady's acquaintance will be made. If so, will it be benign? Or something unimaginably horrifying?
The aforementioned comprise some of the more familiar, though delightfully oddball genre elements of the screenplay by Alison Richards and director Ainslie, but where they really come into play is in the areas the picture excels in. This is, in many ways a story of deep loneliness and how it manifests itself into sheer, unrelenting horror.
Our stay-at-home Mom grapples with her feelings of postpartum worthlessness and body image as her self-absorbed, pretentious actor husband provides plenty of reasons for wifey to be jealous, suspicious and downright angry. In retaliation she grasps out for any reality beyond the mundane, even if said reality is either a manifestation of mental illness or something altogether paranormal, or perhaps even both.
As a director, Ainslie is clearly playing in the Roman Polanski sandbox of horrific delights, bringing an atmospheric, measured pace, thick with dread and dappled with unexpected bursts of thick liquid crimson during moments of sickening violence which may or may not be real.
His mise-en-scene brings to mind Repulsion, Rosemary's Baby and The Tenant with dollops of Don't Look Now for good measure. None of this, however, is derivative, nor is it displayed in geek fanboy homage. It's designed to deliver jolts that are rooted specifically in the dramatic elements of the screenplay and if anything, to provide a springboard for what Ainslie learned from the Masters to offer-up chills and thrills that are all his own.
There are a few trifling problems with the film. One of the supporting performances is so godawful that you can't believe the performer wasn't fired after uttering one clunky line reading after another. Luckily there is a little pot of gold at the end of this otherwise wretched rainbow that no matter how mind-numbingly incompetent the performance is, you're distracted by the exotic sex-drenched look of the thespian in question.
There is one story element involving the discovery of a secret diary and the readings from it are annoyingly on-point, exemplifying audience hand-holding of the most egregious kind. Worse yet are elements in the tail end of the picture which you'll occasionally realize are distinct possibilities for how it'll all tie up, but you hope and pray the picture won't go there. When it does, the heart sinks.
It is possible, however, that most audiences these days are so stupid they won't see it coming, but even so, it's never a good idea to shoehorn such obvious elements into what is mostly a very unique experience. It gives short shrift even to the dribbling idiots of the Great Unwashed.
I've seen enough movies in my life to sense in cases like this where filmmakers have been forced to compromise their vision by one or more of the following: boneheaded producers, boneheaded financiers, boneheaded distributors and/or broadcasters, boneheaded government funding mavens and all the other boneheaded holders-of-purse-strings types.
All I dare add to this most learned assumption of mine is that the lack of artistic acumen amongst the aforementioned head honchos does indeed place them on the same level as The Great Unwashed.
THE FILM CORNER RATING: ***1/2 3-and-a-Half Stars
The Sublet is the Closing Night Gala at the 2016 Blood in the Snow Film Festival (BITS)