Sunday, May 1, 2011

Killer Pad: "Apartment Zero" (1989)

In 1988 Buenos Aires, political strife is rampant. This is due in part to a series of murders being performed by hired foreign mercenaries. What a time for Adrian (Colin Firth) to decide to look for a roommate.

Although Adrian is Argentinian, he has a British accent thanks to sixteen years in England. His movie theater is failing, since no one wants to see the old classics anymore. He runs an apartment building full of nosy neighbors that he cannot stand. His mother is in the hospital, and will probably never leave. To make ends meet, he puts an ad in the newspaper.

Out of the normal weirdos who answer comes Jack (Hart Bochner), an American who works at a computer company just around the corner. Adrian is almost enamored with Jack, and the two move in together. The first half of the film revolves around Adrian's suspicions about Jack, who becomes friendly with all of the hated neighbors in the building. Lonely Adrian and Jack share and fight like roommates do, and the body count around Buenos Aires keeps growing. To even hint at where the film ends up would be a disservice, but I cannot imagine anyone out there would find it predictable.

"Apartment Zero" is a strange film. It does not quite fit into the "psycho serial killer roommate" genre of suspense films. The Buenos Aires locations are terrific, as is the Argentinian supporting cast. Colin Firth is riveting as Adrian, as complex a character as he has ever played. Hart Bochner is equally good. His classic movie star looks endear him to Adrian, but there is something creepy about his grin. His lack of intensity just jacks up the intensity surrounding his character! Great off-kilter music score to boot.

The first half of the film is pure paranoid suspense. Clues are dropped, relationships explored, and bits of information about Jack and Adrian are revealed. Then the second half of the film turns into absurdist tragedy. There are darkly comic moments, goofy directorial flourishes, and a strange climax that will either have you cheering or shaking your head in puzzlement. While the film worked for me most of the time, some viewers might get turned off by the change in tone and characterization (I did not believe for one minute Jack's passport trouble at the airport).

"Apartment Zero" is still a good film, helped by the two leads and different location. While the second half is not expected, this should be given a chance. (* * * *) out of five stars.