Filmmakers John Ainslie (director/co-writer) and Alyson Richards (co-writer) give the venerable Haunting of Hill House formula a vigorous workout in The Sublet. Joanna (Tianna Nori) and Geoff (Mark Matechuk) move with their toddler son into a sublet apartment whose eccentric and reclusive sublessor they never meet. Joanna takes an instant dislike to her new home, frustrated by the neighbors’ almost-constant banging on the walls, furniture which mysteriously seems to move itself, and a creepy neighbor who seems to have a sinister fascination with the young mother. Joanna soon becomes convinced that some malevolent force is at work in the apartment, one that has evil designs on her son. Or has she fallen prey to depression and delusion? What do you think?
The Sublet borrows many of the standard tropes of haunted-house stories: a child in danger, marital difficulties, a protagonist gradually driven mad, the locale’s tragic, checkered past. That’s not necessarily a bad thing; there’s a reason the classic formula became classic. Ainslie and Richards introduce a fresh element in the subtext by drawing parallels between the psychological effects of the haunting and post-partum depression, and occasionally commenting on body image. The script requires a lot of heavy lifting on Nori’s part to succeed, and she proves equal to the task. Ainsley employs a number of stylish tricks to keep the viewer on their toes, and Jeff Morrow’s droning score maintains a consistent feeling of unease. These elements help sell a storyline so familiar the attentive audience can often predict plot points five to ten minutes before they occur.
Unfortunately these strengths don’t outweigh the story’s biggest flaw: Ainslie and Richards leave too many loose ends dangling. Who bangs on the walls, and why? What’s the deal with the missing-persons report? Why does Joanna’s dialog occasionally conflict with her actions? The Sublet too often feels like a puzzle with too many pieces missing. Of course ambiguity can work well in horror, and a script doesn’t need to provide an answer to every question it asks. But mysteries can only rarely get away with failing to provide a satisfying solution: too often, they leave the viewer scratching their head and asking, “What was all that about?” Which was how I felt at the end of The Sublet. When combined with some subpar characterization and acting (the best example of both comes in the form of Geoff’s smug and obnoxious ex-girlfriend Alex, played by Rachel Sellan as if she were a cartoon character), the overall impression is that of a film that doesn’t meet its potential.
Uneven and often disappointing, The Sublet at least justifies its existence on the basis of its strong lead performance.
Sunday, November 27, 7:00 PM, Cineplex Cinemas (Yonge and Dundas)
Tickets can be purchased at The Blood in the Snow website.