We gave it an A-
Apartment Zero won Best Picture honors at film festivals from Seattle to Florida, but in most cities its theatrical release passed with the speed of a subatomic particle. Happily, it’s on video now, where it can take its sweet time finding its audience.
Besides being a worthy homage to Hitchcock (among others), Apartment Zero is a welcome respite from typical modern thrillers where bad-guy silhouettes pop out at carefully timed intervals to give you a mechanical jolt. Zero is more troubling, because it takes you inside the characters’ haunted heads.
The hero is Buenos Aires theater owner Adrian LeDuc (Colin Firth). Nobody will come to his highbrow movies and there’s no one in his life except his demented mother and his grotesque, silly, sinister fellow apartment-house tenants. He has all the joie de vivre and healthy sexual openness of Tony Perkins in Psycho.
Then Adrian meets Jack (Hart Bochner), a genuine psycho. Everybody loves him because, like any smart bizarro, he brilliantly mimics engaging human behavior. But after taking him in, Adrian begins — despite himself — to take on Jack’s evil secret nature.
The sketchy plot involves right-wing death squads, but the real point of the piece is the characters’ psychic duel, conveyed in a tense style. The camera becomes progressively possessed by Adrian’s jittering. The soundtrack evokes menace. Every move counts. When the apartment denizens circled in the stairwell are shot from below, it’s not arty, it’s spooky, indicating their role as a geek chorus to a tragedy beyond their knowledge.
While every actor scores (including Bochner, whom I always took for a lightweight), it’s Firth who soars. The moral transformation in his last scene leaves viewers with a lasting chill. A-