Fantasia Film Festival Review: SLUMLORD

poster-slumlord-e1437262182411At one point or another, we’ve all felt like someone was watching us. For the most part, it’s all in our imagination-filled heads, but what about the times and instances in which someone WAS being watched? What if we were not only being watched, but were also being violated in every room or crevice of the most familiar and welcoming place possible: our own homes? That’s the idea behind Victor Zarcoff’s chillingly effective and thoroughly terrifying film SLUMLORD.

When a young and expecting married couple rent their house, the landlord showing them the place puts off a creepy vibe, talking softly yet gruff-filled and putting off a very uncomfortable vibe. Instantly dismissing it, the young couple Claire and Ryan (Brianne Moncrief and PJ McCabe) take the place and begin preparations into the upcoming birth of their first child together. While the couple seem happy together and with their son or daughter on the way (they opt for keeping the sex of the baby a secret, which leads to a very creepy scene later in the film), it’s made very clear early on that their marriage is far from perfect. Ryan, blaming every marital issue on Claire, secretly and regularly maintains an affair with his assistant Hannah, and Claire feels somewhat alone in the whole pregnancy. That somewhat fractured relationship is the perfect setup for what comes next, a discovery that we, the audience is given upfront without the young couple knowing: that Gerald, the creepy and awkward landlord of theirs, has set up and installed cameras in every corner, room and crevice in the entire home, allowing him to watch the couple from a room full of monitors.

There’s something very off-putting about Gerald, and even taking the spying out of the equation for a second, we can sense that there is a pressure cooker of rage building inside of the character, something that is portrayed excellently by Neville Archambault in what is one of the best genre performances in the last ten years. Every single time Gerald appears on screen, we as viewers feel a tightening of our stomachs, and lumps in our throats. Archambault plays the character quietly, with short answers and a unique walk that makes both the characters living in the film and the audience watching the film feel equally uncomfortable. Gerald sees everything the couple does, every argument, every time that Ryan cheats on Claire with his assistant, and that voyeurism is only the tip of the iceberg. Soon Gerald enters the couple’s house when they’re not there, puts their toothbrushes into his mouth, installs additional cameras into the couple’s pool and toilet (yeah…their toilet), and his desire to watch the couple’s relationship becomes more and more obsessive, leading us into what is by far one of the most intense and anxiety-filled final acts in the last five years.

What makes the film so terrifying and effective is how easily we can identify with the characters of Claire and Ryan. For Ryan, the pregnancy and the lack of intimacy has somewhat made him cold and his desire to look elsewhere leads him into trouble that is nothing compared to what the ticking time bomb of Gerald is, and Claire’s feelings of not wanting to feel alone makes her easy to identify with as well. We’re given two characters that are flawed, making them believable and making the film that much harder to watch, when things begin to unravel. The development of the characters, mixed with Gerald’s lack of being close to anyone and his voyeurism makes every little fear that we have all felt at one time or another feel like a reality, causing a heavy amount of tense muscles and not realizing that we’re on the edge of our seats watching the madness of the landlord unravel into the lives of the young couple.

Quite easily one of the best directorial debuts in quite some time, SLUMLORD shows what a talented storyteller Zarcoff is, and also establishes Archambault as a force to be reckoned with.

Slumlord Trailer (2015) Fantasia Film Festival from McManus on Vimeo.

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