APARTMENT
ZERO

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Movies E.C. McMullen Jr. Review by
E.C.McMullen Jr.
Apartment Zero
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APARTMENT ZERO - 1988
The Summit Company Ltd.
USA: Rated R

When APARTMENT ZERO hit the (far smaller amount of) film festivals in 1988 - 1991, a number of people didn't know what to make of it. At the time, Hollywood had been flooding the market for years with action slam bang movies. The 1980s was the decade of 2 Star Wars sequels, all of the Raiders of the Lost Ark movies, Arnold Schwarzenegger's greatest hits, Freddy Kruger's A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET high point, and David Cronenberg's best films. APARTMENT ZERO was like being in the kitchen during a great party of your friends and seeing a slightly disheveled stranger enter through the back door, with a big shiny knife in one hand, and the other hand gently tapping a single finger to his lips.

APARTMENT ZERO was made in Argentina with cooperation from folks in the UK. Though it never gained a foothold in the U.S. outside of art house cinemas, it easily beat most of the movies of its year in audience satisfaction (94% on Rotten Tomatoes).

The tale starts out in the same year as it was made, 1988, just 5 years after the last of the Argentinean death squads coursed their bloody way through the country, slaughtering political rivals and innocent civilians with equal indifference.

The story centers on Buenos Aires and an art house cinema, Cine York, which is doing poor business. The owner of the movie house, Adrian LeDuc (Colin Firth: THE HOUR OF THE PIG) is obsessed with old American movies, but his theater is stumbling and he finds himself short of cash and short of patience: His business and life are going under. When he comes home it's no better. His gossipy apartment neighbors have nothing better to do with their drab lives than stand around the stairwell bitching about the day's latest offering. Though terribly lonely, Adrian wants nothing to do with them. He can't understand them nor they him. Complicating Adrian's life is the fact that he is an adult Mama's boy, and his Mother is dying of a mental illness at the hospital. What's more, somewhere in the city a serial killer is on the loose, murdering men and women and putting everyone on edge. It's no time to be alone. Biting the bullet, Adrian puts an ad in the paper for a roommate.

After suffering through the usual lookey-loo idiots and nincompoops, including one man who tells him up front that he is looking for an apartment but "I have no money. None. No money. Nothing.", Adrian nearly sends away the ruggedly handsome Jack Carney (Hart Bochner: TERROR TRAIN, DIE HARD, URBAN LEGENDS: The Final Cut). Adrian, who is such a film buff that pictures of movie actors adorn his walls like family photos, is immediately struck with Jack, who reminds him of James Dean. Adrian nearly begs Jack to stay.

As the charismatic Jack goes about making friends with the neighbors that Adrian despises, Adrian finds himself cornered by one of his employees, Claudia (Francesca d'Aloja). She is passionately political minded and volunteers her spare time with an international group, bent on finding the Death Squad mercenaries who pillaged Argentina just a short 5 years earlier - and are still believed to be living in the country (to date, none have been arrested). Since the theater is doing so poor anyway, Adrian allows Claudia to bring her group in on Saturdays. He does this against his will because Claudia wants Adrian to get involved - she believes everyone should be involved - and Adrian wants to live his life untouched by the world.

Which makes life harder with Jack. Jack loves life and enjoys the company of others. To Adrian, Jack's ebullient nature and brooding dark good looks is a double edged sword. On the one hand, Jack's ability to make friends with total strangers feels more than a bit creepy to Adrian's sheltered nerves. And the other edge is this: Adrian, who is no more adroit with women than he is with people in general, starts to wonder about his own sexuality whenever he finds himself in the company of Jack.

Thus the movie begins to twist the various threads of the story around the same spike; bringing these different people together. The wounds of Argentina are still fresh from the open assassinations and secret killings of just a few short years before. People are both reluctant to be alone and wary of strangers. They huddle together for any reason and cluck over those who prefer privacy. The entire country is leery of anything that seems remotely suspicious. Add into this the serial murders that are taking place, suggesting that, perhaps, the Death Squads may not really be gone after all.

On this backdrop do Adrian, Jack, Claudia, and the neighbors move.

Everyone seems decent enough, but living/cowering in a terrified time of paranoia where echoes of government legitimized horrors continue to ring, make even the nicest people do the worst of things and justify it in the name of their own fear. Both Jack and Claudia are pulling Adrian in different directions, toward a life he doesn't want. His neighbors with their peering eyes and "sociable" questions burrow like worms into his privacy. His Mother's insanity and impending death is forcing Adrian into a life inevitable.

Something is going to snap.

Watching APARTMENT ZERO on subsequent occasions, I come away amazed at how it starts out so innocuous and mundane. Despite its poor box office, this film was more than a little influential. The movie comes from a story by co-Producer, Director and co-screenwriter, Martin Donovan (Real name: Carlos Enrique Valera Y Peralta-Ramos: SOMEONE IS WAITING). David Koepp (DEATH BECOMES HER, JURASSIC PARK, LOST WORLD: Jurassic Park II, PANIC ROOM, SPIDER-MAN) Co-Produced and co-screen wrote Martin's story, then immediately recycled it and sold it under his own name and own credit as BAD INFLUENCE (pretty much the same film), which was made just two years later in the U.S. In the same year of BAD INFLUENCE's release (and while APARTMENT ZERO was still making the film festival rounds), 1990, John Lutz wrote his novel, SWF Seeks Same, which was uncannily like APARTMENT ZERO except it too took place in the U.S. It also changed the gender of the two protagonists. The book was made into the 1992 movie, SINGLE WHITE FEMALE.

The American films were lackluster and I don't say that with the darkened coffee shoppe snobbery of some Liberal Arts major. They both did mediocre at the box office despite the PR money behind them. David Koepp has gone on to bigger and better things. Whenever someone talks about the Hollywood "machine" and how it crushes creativity, I look at Koepp. Koepp became a writer of "WOW!" movies. When you watch APARTMENT ZERO, you'll see his first wow.

Amazing performances were given by Colin Firth (who has proved himself many times over as a gifted actor) and surprisingly by Hart Bochner (who has impressed no one with his acting skills since). Good acting or good direction? I'm thinking a lot of both.

Haunting, creepy, and intense, I give APARTMENT ZERO 5 Shriek Girls

Shriek GirlsShriek GirlsShriek GirlsShriek GirlsShriek Girls
This review copyright 2002 E.C.McMullen Jr.

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