Occupant (Henry Miller, 2011)
What I thought I was getting when I pulled up Occupant on Netflix Instant Streaming and what I actually got are two entirely different things. There are times when this is a bad thing. A terrible one, even. But Occupant is not one of those times—what was billed as your typical horror/thriller revolving around a young man basically squatting in a New York apartment in order to get valid tenancy (think Repulsion here, I was) ended up actually being a vicious—and very, very funny—satire about the absolute idiocy of New York City’s property values, not to mention its property laws, which are even stupider. I expected I would enjoy it; I certainly didn’t expect to love it. But at the end of the day, it found itself with a four-star rating, which as of now still automatically lands a movie on my list of the thousand best films of all time (so far, I have given 701 films four stars or better). Is it really that good? Yeah, I think it is.
The story: Danny Hill (As the World Turns‘ Van Hansis in his feature debut) has a grandmother who has a big, gorgeous rent-controlled apartment in Manhattan. Or, well, he did, anyway—grandma shuffled off this mortal coil a few frames before the movie begins. He has a quick confab with grandma’s lawyer, who lets him know that he can be grandfathered in with the amount of money she paid per month (which is ridiculously cheap for an apartment that’s probably now going for twelve-five or so), but on one condition—he has to prove occupancy. Even setting foot outside the apartment could give the building’s manager (Price Check‘s Brian Berrebbi) the chance to oust Danny and move someone in there who would actually be paying the kind of rent people in New York think a place like this is worth, so he effectively has to barricade himself in the apartment for twelve days. Seems easy, right? All he has to do is sit in the apartment. The building’s obsequious doorman, Joe (The Silencers‘ Thorsten Kaye), becomes Danny’s lifeline to the outside world, going to the grocery store, running errands, etc. Things get even better when Danny’s stalkerish ex Sharleen (End of Watch‘s Cody Horn) shows up. But still, being alone in that cavernous apartment is starting to get to Danny. And then he starts hearing the rats in the walls…
Okay, put aside the fact that Danny’s number one mistake here was not stopping by a used bookstore on the way back from that breakfast meeting with the lawyer and stocking up on cheap paperbacks he could’ve used to pass the time. After all, that would have made for a very short movie. But a lot of the other criticisms I have seen of the movie make perfect sense if you think about them for a while. (Why was Joe so fawning? Think about it. Who’s going to have more money for tips, someone paying rent control prices or someone paying market value? Joe had every reason to go out of his way to be helpful to Danny here.) Miller (whose Anamorph is also seriously underrated) and screenwriter Jonathan Brett (Turbulence) made the mistake of writing and directing a movie that requires the viewer to pay attention and then market it as a horror/thriller. That seems to not play well in the states, which is why movies like the amazing Korean supernatural drama The Uninvited never get any play over here. If you’re willing to sit down with this movie, give it the attention it deserves, and then chew over the bits that require some thought with your friends afterwards while you’re sitting at the bar or the restaurant or whatever, Occupant is a fascinating little movie that deserves a great deal more attention than it’s gotten. ****