Director Nicole Groton did not set out to write a film about the coronavirus. The synopsis for Darkness in Tenement 45 may even make some wonder what kind of movie it actually is. DT45 takes place in New York City. Following an attack from the Soviet Union, a group lives in self imposed isolation in a tenement in New York City. Along with the fear of disease coming in from the outside, the makeshift family inside tries to deal with its new reality.
Make no mistake about it; Darkness in Tenement 45 is a horror movie. The look will be reminiscent of an episode of Tales From the Darkside. The minimalist soundtrack and Groton’s direction do an excellent job of setting the atmosphere. The story examines deep themes – and has some surprising ties to the current health situation.
The movie’s aesthetic is perfect for the story it is trying to tell. The actual tenement has an almost washed out look to it. It is clear that even before the attack, the dwelling was not the height of luxury. The inhabitants are living in squalor that has only been made worse by the new conditions. The characters wear drab clothing that only adds to the desperate situation they are in. During the brief instances where there is light, the juxtaposition is shocking. The outside world has truly been cut off from the tenement.
The score is great for Darkness in Tenement 45. The right music can add so much to a movie. Not only does Logan Rees use the correct songs, he times them perfectly. The score adds another dimension to the movie adding tension and terror to the film. The combination of perfect visuals and audio create the atmosphere Groton’s (she is also the writer) film needs. Darkness in Tenement 45 constantly has the audience asking questions. The setting and character interactions elicit curiosity while at the same time making those watching afraid of what those answers may be.
Despite the grey setting and tone, the characters themselves are not downtrodden. They are exact opposite. Early on, the audience is introduced to Felix, a man with a strong personality that the others look up to. On the other end of the spectrum is Martha. Martha is a headstrong leader who may not do what the others want, but makes it a point to always get her way. In the middle is Joanna. Joanna is arguably the most conflicted character in a building full of them. She is not just at odds with Martha; she is also trying to figure things out about herself. An interesting mix, Joanna is strong and resourceful, but is also constantly questioning herself.
How does the coronavirus fit in? Darkness in Tenement 45 is not about any one disease. However, some of the themes it does cover are fear of becoming infected, how people react under quarantine, and the lengths some will go to in order to protect themselves. It may not be a one to one comparison, but there are definite parallels between what we are seeing in the headlines.
(While it makes no difference regarding the quality of the film, it is important to note the make up of the Darkness in Tenement 45. The cast and crew is an estimated 85% female. A while back, I wrote about inclusivity in Hollywood. Along with being a good watch, the movie is refreshingly genuine.)
Darkness in Tenement 45 is a classic horror story that will play on current fears. The strong direction and storytelling from Nicole Groton will make the film stand out as more than just another horror movie. The movie delivers scares based on relatable emotions. That is an incredibly hard thing to do in today’s cynical world.