Three ‘Disturbing Outsider’ films

It makes sense to combine these reviews together, since they cover similar subjects; it’ll save duplicating plots. The central character’s life is turned upside-down by the sudden arrival of a disturbing outsider, who might be being hunted or who may simply be mentally ill. The hero/ine is thrown onto their own resources, with no-one to turn to whom they can trust – the police are right out – and must work out where the truth lies (truth…lies…geddit?). Chuck in sexual tension too, since the outsider is of the appropriate sex and attractive, albeit in a deranged, wildly-staring kinda way.

The films do differ, not least that sometimes the outsider is indeed a loony, while elsewhere he/she is genuinely in trouble. No reason one should be more successful than the other, it’s all down to the way its handled…

When Strangers Appear (2001)

Rating: C+

Dir: Scott Reynolds
Star: Radha Mitchell, Barry Watson, Josh Lucas, Kevin Anderson

We did screw up by watching the trailer first – do not do this, as it renders about the first 50 minutes of the film redundant. It covers all the important points as a waitress (Mitchell) falls in with the cinematic standard Disturbing Outsider (Watson), in a town apparently inhabited only by the local cop, his wife and a doctor. Once you get beyond that, however, the movie begins to kick in, director Reynolds carving out some nicely-tense scenes, even if he does seem to have a thing for bathrooms.

The finale, in which our heroine gets drenched in strangely unflammable petrol, does go several notches over the top, yet has a circularity to it which is oddly satisfying. New Zealand stands in for Oregon (wouldn’t it have been easier and cheaper to film in, er, Oregon?) – Chris spotted a small slew of errors such as “tyres” rather than tires. The overall effect is pleasing in a minor, if somewhat inconsistent, kind of way. Just don’t watch the trailer, whatever you do.

The Fall (1999)

Rating: C-

Dir: Andrew Piddington
Star: Craig Sheffer, Hélène de Fougerolles, Jürgen Prochnow, Sandor Teri

Adam Ellis (Sheffer), is a writer in Budapest – in a rare twist, the Hungarian capital actually plays itself – whose life is thrown into turmoil when D.O. Marta (de Fougerolles) comes crashing into her former apartment, which is now his. Her tale is of kidnap, murder and rape at the hands of former Communist politician Kovacs (Prochnow), now a successful businessman. Bullshit or not? You decide…

Sheffer, looking more like Kurt Russell than he did in Nightbreed, makes his mind up early on – personally, I’d wait a little longer before leaping into bed with someone who has just knocked on my door, blood-stained straight razor strapped to her thigh, but there you go. This kind of idiocy makes it difficult to work with the hero, and the problem is, there isn’t anyone else to go with. His girlfriend is a slut (indeed, everyone in Budapest appears to be), Kovacs might or might not be a psycho, and ditto for Marta, whose French accent also seems wildly out of place.

The ending also leaves a lot to be desired. You almost get the feeling the final scenes were tacked on after test screenings, they seem so unattached. It’s a significantly more satisfying film without them, though even if you switch off five minutes before the end, you’re unlikely to have more than a passable time. There’s perhaps less to complain about here than in When Strangers Appear, but there is also a great deal less worth remembering.

Apartment Zero (1989)

Rating: B

Dir: Martin Donovan
Star: Colin Firth, Hart Bochner, Dora Bryan, Liz Smith

While still a ‘disturbing outsider’ film, part of the “psycho flatmate” subgenre, this one adds a bunch of novel twists. First off, at the beginning it’s the central character, cinema manager Adrian (Firth), who seems the more disturbed, neurotic, obsessive and pretending to be English. In comparison, his new tenant, the affable Jack (Bochner), is outgoing, friendly and beloved by the other residents in the apartment block. The fact that the protagonists are the same sex doesn’t reduce tension either, since Jack is bisexual, but this angle never becomes more than a sideshow (especially in the video version, edited by the director).

As things progress, Jack’s psychoses are revealed, with Adrian suspecting more and more. A political edge develops, as someone is killing people, in the same way used by the local death squads under Galtieri. Just to add to the emotional carnage, Adrian’s mother is in the last stages of Alzheimer’s. Despite all this, there is a lot of (admittedly, very dark) humour, with the duo bitching at each other like an old queens’ version of The Odd Couple. Their neighbours, led by Bryan and Smith, are just as amusing, and you wonder if the place is really some kind of loony-bin.

For the most part, this is very effective, off-center stuff. Both actors are excellent, though some script points, such Adrian’s survival of a long fall with nothing more than a cut forehead, stretch credulity. At 117 minutes, there is too much slack, particularly in a first half which had both Chris and I denying responsibility for buying the movie. By the end, however, we were just as keen to claim the credit.