JANUARY 22, 2012
As previously mentioned, I hate repeating myself under any circumstances, but it drives me even more nuts when I have to repeat something that is IN WRITING. However, I do understand that I tweet a lot, and some folks like to follow over a thousand people for whatever reason to boot, so when I tweet something about the movie I said I was watching 2 posts ago and someone goes “What movie are you talking about?” I have to accept that maybe it’s too much of a hassle for them to investigate. So it’s kind of ironic that I actually DID put the name of The Tenant into my brief reaction, because then of course someone assumed I was talking about the Polanski one. Thus, had I not bothered trying to clarify, maybe I wouldn’t have had to clarify.
But the weird thing is, my post was pretty specific to this movie – it’s not like I said “The Tenant was kind of lame, but I’ve seen worse” or something; I specifically addressed the movie’s odd structure (Polanski’s film is fairly straight-forward) and admirably crass handling of its deaf characters, something I cannot recall in the other Tenant. So maybe folks can’t even read the whole tweet, I don’t know.
Anyway, the mad scientist and slasher hybrid is pretty rare, so it’s worth noting that the two never really blend into one movie. The first half of the movie is essentially an overlong prologue depicting how the hulking brute slasher in the 2nd half came into existence. There’s very little “horror” in this setup (which is probably why a present day, pre-credits kill scene of no bearing on anything was added); we just watch a well-meaning but obsessed doctor (who looks like Rip Torn) conduct questionable tests on his pregnant wife (as well as Michael Berryman, second-billed for a single scene role). But she’s having twins, so one baby comes out fine while the other is a hideous freak. There’s a lot of stuff about their failing marriage and money issues, plus the Berryman scene goes on forever – it’s basically the most fleshed out, overlong version of the five or ten minute intro that would accompany something like The Burning or whatever: “Once upon a time THIS happened – now let’s get to our slasher story.”
Thus, by the time the slasher plot kicks in around the 45 minute mark or so, there isn’t much time for characterization or suspense-building. All of a sudden we meet a vanful of deaf teens (young ones, like around 14), two older (college-age) counselors, their boss who looks a LOT like the mother in the first half (hmm…) and J LaRose as the hilariously crass van driver, an ex-con who repeatedly refers to the kids as “dummies” and has negative things to say about pretty much anything. Where they were going in the middle of the night in a huge rainstorm is none of our business, but the movie wastes no further time getting them into the now abandoned asylum where the now adult mutant boy is prowling around.
In a way it’s kind of remarkable how many clichés they run through in order to get to the point quickly: their tire blows out AND they’re out of gas, which is why they don’t just sit in the van to wait (it’s cold). Then they run through the “no signal” scene with their cell phones, with the exception of one that has a signal long enough to call a phone that was dropped in the rain, and then it promptly dies from a low battery. The only thing they forgot was getting lost, but I guess that would make the rather silly coincidence of the connection our heroine has to the asylum that they broke down in front of even stupider. On the contrary, she actually knows quite a bit about it, yet doesn’t piece together the connection until she finds some photos and files.
But, you know, whatever. I don’t ask for tight, surprising plotting from these things, and I was already kind of amused by the fact that they spent so much time explaining the killer’s origin. Once LaRose showed up and started spewing venomous insults at kids who couldn’t even hear him it entered See No Evil/Silent Night, Deadly Night territory, so you know I’m on board with that. Plus, the kids get killed! I figured MAYBE one of them would be offed to raise the stakes, but they’re only there for about five minutes before our killer pulls two of them through a wall and kills the shit out of them. In fact, to give it an actual (not backhanded) compliment, they do a fine job of killing the folks you figured would be OK and vice versa (with the exception of the heroine, obviously). Of course, part of that is due to the fact that we barely learn any of their names (the whole “deaf” angle has no real point other than I guess to explain why most of them don’t have phones), but there are still some surprises with regards to the more “fleshed out” characters, i.e. the ones we can tell apart.
I’m less forgiving of the terribly directed/edited action scenes, however. That scene I mentioned where he pulls the girls through the wall? The heroes just look at the hole and then briskly walk into another room saying things like “We have to find them!”, as if there WASN’T a man sized hole in the wall that clearly led to where the girls might be, assuming they were still alive after they just wasted time walking in the wrong direction. There are a number of scenes where people seem to have no reaction to what is going on around them, as if the actors weren’t aware they were in the frame, and one character is CLEARLY dead at one point only to be alive and kicking a few minutes later.
But that just adds to my theory that the film was produced at two different times, as none of the actors in the mad scientist scenes ever interact with the ones in the slasher segment. Whether they didn’t have enough for one segment and decided to add the other, or they just simply didn’t know what they were doing, I don’t know – but the movie definitely suffers from a disconnect, both in the two-part structure and within those segments. The mad scientist parts are kind of sloppy too; the other patients in the asylum look to be more important at one point, only to be forgotten a few moments later. There’s a deleted scene on the DVD that I cannot for the life of me understand how it would have ever fit into the movie, and it’s interesting that all of them are from the movie’s first half. Was the slasher stuff a total “oh shit the movie’s too short let’s come up with something else!” affair?
Nothing on the making of suggests as much, as the director talks about the actors for a bit before they spend an inordinate time on sound editing, including the “reveal” that all of the dialogue in the “van in the rain” scene was looped, something I had written in my notes (“ADR?”) as I watched the movie. Nice try though. There’s also a blooper reel, but as is common with these low-budget horror movies, most of the bloopers aren’t distinguishable in any way – no obvious flubbed lines or even a boom mic dropping into the frame. But if The Tenant is your favorite movie ever you’ll probably enjoy spending a few more minutes with these beloved characters.
With some polish and a slightly less awkward structure, this could have been a minor gem. I appreciate the humanizing of the monster (to a degree), and utilizing practical FX will always earn my respect, but it never quite comes together in a satisfying way, and the tone/point of the first half doesn’t quite fit with that of the second. Nice, weird try.
What say you?
P.S. Enough with “Moonlight Sonata”! Thing’s getting more play than “Mockingbird” in horror movies as of late. Give Beethoven a break, huh? Try some Ives.