Darkness in Tenement 45 a Timely Tale of an Unsettled World

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Darkness in Tenement 45

Horror has always been a land of allegory. From the nervous awakenings of the sexual revolution in Rosemary’s Baby to the zombie-consumerist underpinnings of Dawn of the Dead and the politico-anarchism of The Purge, the darkest of all entertainment genres allows creators an outlet for societal commentary unmatched in other venues. Romantic comedies, after all, aren’t known for gazing deep into life’s abyss to see what stares back at them.

It’s with that mindset that Wood Entertainment releases Darkness In Tenement 45, a timely tale of an unsettled world descending into a chaos begat of biological warfare, governmental interdiction and personal mistrust. Set in an alternate 1953 where the Cold War turned hot, the film opens with faux-newsreels depicting a panicked American populous reeling from the Soviet Union’s threat to unleash a viral bomb on New York City. The U.S. government orders the evacuation of the entire Big Apple, but stanch holdouts remain in pockets of the city. Tenement building No 45 is one such place, a rickety, dismal slum-house that a month after evacuation is home to a disparate motley crew of survivors who count their rations and collect cockroaches to cook while they attempt to outlast the imposed quarantine. The tenement itself is a microcosm of the abandoned metropolis: there’s dutiful Hispanic father Felix (David Labiosa), who leaves his children under the control of domineering Martha (Casey Kramer) when he volunteers to venture outside to scavenge for supplies; slovenly, rough-around-the-edges landlord Horen (Anthony Marciona), who’s fearful he’s given up hegemony of his own building by delegating responsibilities to the other adult occupants, and Martha’s jitter-nerved, mentally-unstable niece Joanna (Nicole Tompkins), whose affliction with ‘The Darkness’ leads her to experience hallucinogenic dreams and indulge in bouts of self-harm.

Prevalent themes of paranoia and generational conflict tautly mount as the plot advances and Martha tyrannically wields the power she’s been bestowed: she has the locks to each apartment changed against Horen’s wishes in order to keep everyone imprisoned, inflicts punishment upon disobeying children and engenders a fearful distrust of the external world, adhering fiercely to the principle that even one puff of air from beyond the plank-covered windows will contaminate the building and lead to their doom. Her stance is countered halfway through the film when Joanna insists she’s witnessed proof that New York may not have been exposed to a biological agent at all, and factions form along age lines: the teenagers accept Joanna as their imperfect leader even as she experiences lapses in sanity and delves into self-mutilation, while the adults are forced into complying with Martha through bullying and eventual violence.

Confinement is rife in Darkness In Tenement 45, and writer/director Nicole Groton infuses the movie’s high-concept heart with a tense, unnerving claustrophobia that locks the viewer in quarantine with the characters with no feasible escape route. One can practically smell the musty, stale air, a disquieting discomfort enhanced by the gloomy lighting and threatening atmosphere. Once Martha’s dictatorial behavior exerts itself, her ostensible vision of the outside world inevitably leads to a bloody breakdown of the miniscule society within the building and by the film’s intense climax overthrows any attempt at straightforward reason. The resulting calamity is at once absorbing and ambiguous, shocking and unexpected, and the enthrallment remains long after the haunting end-credits song has played. There are no easy answers in a movie like this, even to the primary question of exactly what constitutes the darkness in tenement 45--is it mental illness, a corrupted desire to protect, or fear of the unknown? Perhaps in the end it’s the shadows lurking in our own fragile hearts, and if so, that’s an idea perfectly portrayed.

I give it a 5 (out of 5) on my Fang Scale.

Grade: 
5.0 / 5.0