My mom was sure I’d like this one. She was certain she’d nailed it; this was the one that I’d be thanking her for putting on my radar. She wouldn’t tell me much about it, simply that I had to see it. I’ll give her one thing, she knows me.
2011’s Occupant is a bare bones thriller with no frills and a very scant plot. This is not a criticism by any stretch, as the story presented to us benefits from the lack of bells and whistles. Our protagonist Andy seeks to take over his recently deceased grandmother’s rent controlled New York City apartment. To do this, he barricades himself in the building and is soon faced with unexplained goings on, unsettling elevator operators, disappearing visitors, and a gaping closet hole. Is this apartment really too good to be true? Is there some malevolent spirit hoping to take over the young squatter? Is the pushy and often inappropriate door man the devil? If you don’t want to be spoiled, stop here and check this movie out.
The answer to all those questions is “no.” Occupant takes a best case scenario turn and abandons any supernatural plot reveals. There’s no ghosty haunting this spacious flat, and the lawyer hired to file Andy’s paperwork isn’t an agent of Satan. It’s so refreshing. This is psychological horror, folks, and Andy is slowly going insane, dispatching multiple people and his cat while in some sort of fugue state. After spending several days in the apartment he begins losing his grip on reality, hallucinating, babbling to himself, and finally taking his own life. On paper, this surprising NYC driven not-quite-horror film is the best thing to ever pass in front of my eyes. Sadly, the pieces don’t always fit together.
The film’s setup is strained and off putting. Why does the girl he meets on the street (and eventually sleeps with) seem to know strange details about him (his college degree and later where he’s from) when they clearly don’t know each other? It may be alluded to that she’s stalking him for her “video blog,” but it’s confusing and seems unnecessary. She’s a convenient way to employe some light hand-held camera footage, and I’m left thinking that was her only, very unclear, purpose. Then we have the overly concerned, nosy, pushy door man Joe, who basically forces Andy to take up his grandmother’s rent controlled lease. The dude doesn’t even seem interested. He’s never been to her apartment before, no lip service is payed to any need Andy has for a new place, and he never seems bowled over. Here comes Joe, without provocation, saying he’ll lie and say Andy’s been there a month, and that anything Andy needs, Joe will get. Just don’t leave the apartment. And here’s some paint. And let me have your ATM card. What was the point of all that? To set Joe up as some kind of red herring? If so, it didn’t work, and more time should have been spent planting the seeds of Andy’s mental breakdown.
Aside from qualms I have with the story, and the ineffective use of a cat (Seriously, if you have a single-set film with one main character and he has a cat, he should be bonding with that cat non-stop, because when shit gets real, and that cat dies, the viewer should be crushed. Make that pussy a character!), the film’s second half makes some style choices that didn’t have the impact they were meant to. Certain camera effects I’m not even going to pretend to know the names of were used to depict Andy’s descent, and all they ended up being was distracting.
This movie whips me into such a lather because it had so much potential. Plot details, including New York City rental laws, and what I think were intentional misdirects, hurt this film. Creditability only stretches so far, and the idea of a space being “haunted” by oneself is so compelling that any extra baggage is just dead weight. I applaud the filmmakers for taking the story in this direction though. It was a brave, and most likely unpopular choice. Give it a watch for the fascinating character study that lives somewhere in this 86 minute eyebrow-raiser.