The Tenant (1976)

tenant 1

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 10 out of 10

4-Word Review: He loses his identity.

This intriguingly odd horror film may well be Roman Polanski’s best work and even better than Rosemary’s Baby as it manages to be scary in a unique way while also bringing to light many of the subtle ugliness of everyday life. Here Polanski plays a tenant who moves into an apartment were all the residents, and even the landlord (Melvyn Douglas), act slightly peculiar. The woman who lived in the apartment before him killed herself by jumping out the window and as he continues to live there he starts to feel a connection towards her while also getting the idea that somehow the other residents are in a conspiracy against him.

The film’s brilliance comes from the fact that the horror and tension is not based on any of the usual devices.  No ghosts, monsters, or psychos here. Instead the viewer gets sucked into the harsh realities of the modern urban world. The feelings of isolation, people who are cold and impersonal and apartments that are bleak and small as well as showing how these urban jungles swallow up our identities until we’re just another face-in-the- crowd.

This amazingly deep and penetrating study gets astutely underplayed with no action and little or any true scares. The tension comes through its psychological implications and the paranoia that only the Polanski character feels. Are these people really out to get him, or is it all just in his head? There are no definite answers, but theme and ideas are quite real. It’s a sort of twisted version of Rear Window and extension of Repulsion that may require a second viewing in order to completely appreciate.

Polanski scores on all levels as his performance is interesting and his ability as a director to make you feel the smallness and bleakness of the character’s apartment is also amazing. You are given a very real sense of the room’s dimensions without any inclination that it was done on a stage, or with the presence of a film crew. The eerie segments are subtle but successful with imagery that is both strange and lasting.

My Rating: 10 out of 10

Released: May 26, 1976

Runtime: 2Hours 5Minutes

Rated R

Director: Roman Polanski

Studio: Paramount

Available: DVD, Amazon Instant Video, YouTube

6 responses to “The Tenant (1976)

  1. This is a masterpiece. Third in Roman Polanski’s “apartment” trilogy (is Carnage #4?). It’s really a fascinating movie. Total agreement about Polanski’s performance (I didn’t know he was an accomplished actor!) Great review!

    • Yes, I think ‘Carnage’ is meant to be number 4. That was a good one too. Not quite as good as the others, but certainly has its moments and stellar performances all around!

  2. Now if Criterion would only release a blu Ray. A box set of The Apartment Trilogy would be perfection.

    • That is a great idea and I’m surprised that it hasn’t been done already. I’m genuinely shocked this classic film has yet to receive the Blu-ray treatment!

  3. Joseph Kearny

    The parts re better than the whole, but Polanski pulls of some really creepy scenes.

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