|4th Floor, The|
|Written by Abbie Bernstein|
|Tuesday, 11 July 2000|
‘The 4th Floor’ is a low-budget borderline horror thriller that succeeds in being extraordinarily creepy, though it suffers the problem that is rampant in the genre – it deflates once we know what’s going on.
Juliette Lewis plays Jane Emelin, an independent-minded New Yorker who would rather move in to her late aunt’s fabulous rent-controlled townhouse than cohabit with her loving but vain TV weatherman boyfriend (William Hurt). The apartment is on the fifth floor. Jane’s neighbors are all older and apparently eccentric but harmless – but the apartment directly below her is reportedly inhabited by an old woman who can’t bear any sort of noise.
Director/writer Josh Klausner succeeds in creating an atmosphere of such dread – he rounds up not only usual suspects like maggots and loud noises but also styrofoam packing material to weird us (and Jane) out – that perhaps nothing could live up to the sense of anticipation he creates. In the audio commentary track, he rationalizes a casting mistake that viewers will eventually notice (while this is not a universal truth, there are times when no amount of thespian skill will entirely compensate for a wrong physical choice).
‘The 4th Floor’ makes superb use of sound as a scare tactic. A word of advice – don’t pick up anything made of glass once the plot gets going. Jane’s aggressive front door buzzer alone is enough to make an unwary listener drop something. Dueling sonic irritants – with Jane deliberately deciding to antagonize her unseen but increasingly unnerving downstairs neighbor – makes for a good, percussive black comedy sequence that fills the listening environment with righteous rhythmic din.
There was a formatting problem with ‘The 4th Floor’ disk I watched that may or may not be common to all DVD copies of this film. Chapters respond to commands from both the buttons on the Kenwood DVD player and the remote control, skipping forward and back, but the chapter numbers resolutely refused to display on the faceplate, so that it was effectively impossible to be certain where certain sound effects were taking place. (I checked other disks to ascertain that the problem was with this individual film and not the DVD player.) 16 chapters for a 90-minute film seems a bit on the sparse side in any event.
The audio commentary by Klausner, film editor Tricia Cooke and production designer Timothy Galvin has a few interesting anecdotes, but sounds primarily like friends reminiscing. The alternate ending doesn’t do much except extend the running time by a few minutes; the ending used on the film seems the right choice. The volume on the alternate ending makes an unexpected leap as it begins, so that it might be wise to turn down speakers/monitor before checking out the additional footage.
For awhile, ‘The 4th Floor’ succeeds in working the same turf as ‘Rosemary’s Baby’ and ‘The Amityville Horror.’ The new film turns out not to have the follow-through skills to make it memorable as a whole, but Klausner has a way of working the chill factor. Armed with a stronger plotline, he may be a horror filmmaker to watch.