Apartment Zero (1988)

My Rating: 8 out of 10

4-Word Review: This friendship gets weird.

Adrian LeDuc (Colin Firth) is living in Buenos Aires, Argentina and owner of a cinema that specializes in showing classics from Hollywood’s golden era. Unfortunately it is not making enough money and he is having trouble paying for his apartment after his mother has a mental breakdown and forced into an institution.  He decides to rent out the empty bedroom to help defer costs. After going through several would-be candidates he decides to take-in a handsome and mysterious man by the name of Jack Carter (Hart Bochner). Despite Adrian’s anti-social tendencies and extreme fixation on movies and movie trivia he takes an immediate liking to Jack even though Jack has a totally opposite personality. As their relationship progresses different sides to their personalities come out and the two create a very odd co-dependency to the other. Things grow troubling as a serial killer is on the loose and Adrian begins to suspect that it might be Jack.

The film shares some strong elements to two very brilliant films that also happen to be personal favorites: Joseph Loosey’s The Servant and The Tenant. Like with those movies this film delves into the dark human psyche and how the passive-aggressive nature of relationships can bring out sides to a person that had never before been seen. Despite the slow, deliberate pace I found myself almost hypnotically wrapped up in the story and characters from the get go. The leads are full of interesting idiosyncrasies and watching how it all evolves becomes infinitely fascinating.

Firth is splendid as usual in the difficult role. I found it interesting how he is so cold and unforgiving with most everyone, but weak and emotionally needy with both his mother and Jack. His thorough knowledge of movie trivia makes a lot of his conversations that he has with Jack are both fun and unique. The part where tells Jack that he refused to befriend someone simply because he did not know who actress Geraldine Page was is a great line and the only one that I remember from when I first saw it over 20 years ago. I also got a kick out of the game that they play where they name three stars and then the other person must guess what film all of them were in. I appreciated the way director Martin Donovan helps accentuate the characters personality by decorating his apartment with portraits of classic film stars. However, for all of Adrian’s vast cinema knowledge he does get one thing wrong. He states that the film Compulsion was released in 1958 when it really was 1959.

Hart Bochner is alright as Jack, but I did not feel that his performance equaled that of Firth’s. He seemed too much of a male hunk for my tastes. He was also way too normal for too long of a time and I would have liked to have seen a little more hints to his supposed dark side come out earlier. There is also a scene where Jack obtains a fake passport, which he tries to use to board a flight in order to leave the country. He hands the document to a ticket agent for inspection while looking visibly nervous and sweating profusely, which didn’t seem consistent. In every other scenario he had been shown to be cool and confident, so I didn’t understand why he would suddenly lose his composure so badly especially when you take into account he has lived his whole life on the run and most expectedly been through these same situations hundreds of times before. The way he takes off his shirt is also weird and I felt needed explanation even though none is given as he strips it off his body, then rubs it underneath both of his armpits before he then smells it.

The elderly tenants that make up the rest of the building population are amusing, but not really needed. Dora Bryan and Liz Smith are goofy as two elderly sisters who spend their time being snoopy and gossipy, but unfortunately their mannerisms ended up reminding me too much of the Pigeon sisters from The Odd Couple movie. These comical scenes are passable, but tend to take away from the suspense and overall dark theme and seem to be remnants from writer/director Donavan’s career as a TV-sitcom writer, which he did for over three decades before he was finally able to break into film. I also couldn’t buy the one scene showing every one of the tenants watching the same news show at the same exact time as I am sure even in 1980’s Argentina there would have to be a variety of channels and programs to choose from and everyone wouldn’t just be sitting and watching the same thing.

The final hour is when this thing really seems to get going. The last fifteen minutes becomes a barrage of one macabre image, situation, and comment after another and my only complaint was that it took too long to get there, yet it is worth it. The twist at the end is memorably shocking and I wished that the camera had focused in on the grotesqueness of it more and not just shown it for a brief few seconds before cutting away as it would have been more effective. Still if you like intelligent psychological thrillers this one hits the mark and the Buenos Aires setting helps give it an added flavor.

My Rating 8 out of 10

Released: September 30, 1988

Runtime: 2Hours 4Minutes

Rated R

Director: Martin Donovan

Studio: The Summit Company

Available: VHS, DVD

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