APARTMENT 212 (2017)
Director: Haylar Garcia
Writers: Haylar Garcia, Jim Brennan, Kathryn Gould
Stars: Penelope Mitchell, Kyle Gass, Sally Kirkland, Chris J. Johnson
Director HAYLAR GARCIA’S excellent slow-burner, GNAW, was part of the first annual Sin City Horror Fest, which I covered in a two-part piece a while back. A festival hit, it was one of the many films I wanted to make sure I reviewed, so that nobody misses out or sleeps on those great flicks unintentionally. Now that it’s been released on disk via Gravitas Ventures, with the new title APARTMENT 212, I wanted to call attention to it again – though I rather liked the original (and much more appropriate) title.
Written by Garcia, along with co-producers JIM BRENNAN and KATHRYN GOULD, it tells the story of a young woman, Jennifer Conrad (PENELOPE MITCHELL), who is running both to and from something. What she’s seeking is a new life for herself, and to get away from some really troubling problems…actually, one big one, in the form of her boorish and abusive boyfriend, Boyd (CHRIS J. JOHNSON).
Things start off about as well as can be expected for Jen. She moves into a quaint, rundown-but-affordable complex, overseen by the curmudgeonly resident manager, Claudette (a great cameo turn by SALLY KIRKLAND). She also gets a free tour courtesy of nosy-ish but kindly and well-meaning neighbor, Terry (TENACIOUS D singer/musician/comedian KYLE GASS.)
The hint of oncoming darkness begins for her, when she first encounters her downstairs neighbor, Stella (SUSAN BELLONE), the woman who lives in the unit of the title. Covered in strange scratches and bruises, the haggard Stella reminds Jen somewhat of the past, broken version of herself…one she’d rather not remember, since it hasn’t been all that long from when she was that girl.
To make matters worse, the building’s ancient HVAC vents make it possible to hear Stella’s desperate sobbing from downstairs, which seems to go on all night for many nights in a row. Jen does want to help her, but a part of her wants to distance herself from whatever her neighbor’s troubles are. She’s got plenty of issues of her own to work out, thank you. Especially with Boyd, who’s not quite the type who just lets a woman walk away…
Things begin to kick into gear, when a terrible tragedy occurs in Apartment 212. And because Stella allegedly lived alone, nobody seems to know what it was that caused the event, with no evidence of an abusive boyfriend, a jealous ex-husband, anything like that.
After her own connection with Stella, Jen decides that this is a mystery she can’t simply let go…she must find out what happened to her neighbor, and why. But nobody’s prepared – least of all her – to discover a truth that’s hard for any rational mind to comprehend.
There are so many details I’d like to blab about this great little shocker, but there’s far too many that count as important spoilers, so I will just confine myself to the creative aspects.
Garcia, Brennan and Gould have fashioned a great tale that could easily be mistaken as one of the nifty little made-for-TV gems from the mid-to-late ‘70’s, that we ‘kids of a certain age’ grew up with and loved. You know, those flicks like BAD RONALD, DON’T BE AFRAID OF THE DARK and TRILOGY OF TERROR. Not only do the writers remember and pay homage to those retro-treats, but Garcia directs 212 in very much that same kind of style. And that’s not at all a bad thing.
Mitchell (CURVE, THE VAMPIRE DIARIES and HEMLOCK GROVE) makes for a likable, sympathetic and ultimately strong heroine. Everything rides on her ability to carry the bulk of the film, and she does a beautiful job. Gass (THE PICK OF DESTINY, IDLE HANDS) is a natural comedian, but he’s able to tone down the “funny” factor that requires him to support and compete with his TD compadre, Jack Black, for a majority of the time, and the result is a somewhat humorous-yet-sweetly-realistic performance, as a man smitten with his new neighbor. His ‘Terry’ obviously doesn’t mind existing in the ‘friend zone’, as long as he gets to be close to Jen. Good thing he knows how to manage the emotional juggling that this role requires, because it could have been really annoying or super-cringey in the wrong hands.
Sally Kirkland. What more can be said? She’s legendary, and her imperious, judgmental, misanthropic Claudette is yet another notable notch on her acting ‘belt.’ Definitely not the most lovable character in the movie (and that’s understating it), and yet you still wish she was in it a lot more. That is the beauty of watching her perform, even in the weirdest thing you can think of. (For that, see her with the late Trevor Goddard, in the outrageous cult curiosity FLEXING WITH MONTY.)
The rest of the characters are well-performed, if kind of stereotypical, though Chris Johnson’s Boyd is an especially good-looking-yet-hissable asshole, as required. You never see him hit Jen, but he’s the kind of prick you know wouldn’t hesitate at all if even slightly provoked. Does this jerkwad get his comeuppance? You’ll have to rent, stream or buy this one to find out.
One of the great things about 212 is what it’s done in terms of practical and visual effects on a shoestring budget. Just like those retro-movies I mentioned before, it manages to do an impressive amount with very little, and the answer to the ‘mystery’ of what was happening in the apartment below Jen’s, will be something you won’t be able to forget for a very long time, I promise you!
APARTMENT 212 is one I gladly give three-and-a-half out of five stars. And the strongest recommendation that, title change and all, you should still put it on your ‘must-see’ list ASAP!