Saturday, January 14, 2012

"The 4th Floor"

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I had a chance recently to see a movie I'd never heard of, The 4th Floor (1999), starring Juliette Lewis and William Hurt. I was glad I did, not because the movie was good but because it was weird. Here was Hurt, the Oscar-winning star of Kiss of the Spider Woman, appearing as support in a grade B horror movie. Here was Lewis, whining and getting hysterical in her usual Lewis way--which is to say, a weird way. Here was Tobin Bell doing his creepy potential serial killer thing as if preparing for Saw, which he would make five years later.

The plot of The 4th Floor hinges on an apartment that Lewis inherits and doesn't want to give up, even though a mysterious downstairs neighbor (on the fourth floor) is sending her menacing notes about making too much noise. The dispute escalates, and soon the neighbor is sending her maggots and mice, and otherwise making her life unpleasant. Lewis has never seen this neighbor, and the movie is built like an old-fashioned mystery, where you have several suspects to choose from, including Bell, who lives across the street and peeps in at Lewis, and Hurt, a TV weatherman who is Lewis's boyfriend. Neighbors Shelley Duvall and Austin Pendleton are possibilities too.

It doesn't really matter who the maniac is, and in fact the movie is a little muddy about it, finally implicating at least two individuals. The point seems to be to build tension and generate scares, and here the movie falls short. The pace is leaden and the plot twists unbelievable. In one episode, Lewis is facing off against her adversary, and decides to deck the person with an artsy plaque she has mounted on her wall. So she starts pounding her feet into broken glass in an effort to make the plaque fall. And it falls. Now, I have had objects around the house that tend to fall at inopportune times, and the whole point is that you can't control when they fall--they just do, sometimes. Lewis seems to be violating the law of entropy by controlling disorder in an orderly way.

Despite these problems, The 4th Floor was kind of entertaining. It was offbeat and mildly wacky. And it had the worst fake commercial for a TV weatherman I have ever seen.

George Ochoa

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