Review by Sean Boelman
Filmmaker Nicole Groton couldn’t have known the situation in which we would find ourselves when writing and making Darkness in Tenement 45, but its themes ring eerily true in this age of cabin fever and political turmoil. Rough and heavy-handed, but a fascinating satire nonetheless, Groton’s movie offers some unexpectedly thought-provoking genre cinema.
The film follows a group of residents in an apartment building as they hide from a biological threat outside with supplies dwindling and anxiety growing among them when their de facto leader’s power begins to go to her head. This is a story that has been done before, and arguably better, but Groton’s unflinchingly political take on these beats is welcome.
Obviously, there is a clear message about how leadership can corrupt even the most well-meaning of people, but the much more interesting angle that the movie offers explores mental health. Although Groton doesn’t fully develop these themes, the moments in which the eponymous “darkness” is discussed as a literal manifestation of mental illness are really intriguing.
Admittedly, the film does have some trouble with its character development. Although it is nice to see that the characters aren’t entirely archetypal, there’s still some things that Groton could have certainly done better. It would have been nice to see more go into the world-building as it pertains to the factions that arise within the group.
The acting in the movie isn’t of the best quality, but that can almost be expected given the fact that this is a B-movie. Casey Kramer is definitely quite over-the-top as the overbearing matriarch of the group, though it is almost fitting. In the supporting cast, Anthony Marciona and David Labiosa are the standouts.
The technical qualities of the film also reflect its rather low budget. Groton tries to do some interesting things stylistically, but there are more misses than hits. It is obvious that with more money, she could have gone all-in on the surrealist elements. Still, she does a good job of creating the situation.
That said, Groton’s movie is one that slowly creeps under the viewer’s skin over time, replicating the characters’ anxiety rather than artificially creating intensity. There are some shocking moments, particularly in the final act, but for the most part, Groton is dealing in claustrophobia and anxiety.
Darkness in Tenement 45 is quite rough around the edges, but there are still plenty of things working in its favor. It’s a lean and suspenseful thriller, and it has plenty of interesting ideas to boot, making it a solid low-budget entry into the genre.
Darkness in Tenement 45 hits VOD on November 3.