Directed by Martin Donovan. 1988.

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"If that is a mask, please take it off now… or keep it on forever" - Adrian

Creepy, original and very intense, Apartment Zero does not fall into any neat classification but is equal parts suspense thriller, political message film, psychological character study, and black comedy. Directed by Martin Donovan (real name: Carlos Enrique Valera Y Peralta-Ramos) and shot in Buenos Aires, the film is set in 1980, five years after Argentinean death squads randomly murdered dissenters and political opponents. The story centres on two roommates, each unstable in different ways. One is Adrian LeDuc (Colin Firth), a passive and socially maladroit operator of Cine York, a local movie house that shows revivals to ever dwindling audiences. He runs an apartment building full of garrulous neighbors that include two spinsters, a bisexual gigolo, a transvestite, and a lonely housewife, all studiously avoided by Adrian.

His mother is a mentally ill patient in the hospital whom he visits and converses with though she doesn't seem to know who he is and Adrian's neighbors suspect that the illness runs in his family. To make ends meet, he puts an ad in the newspaper looking for someone to share his flat. The roommate to be is Jack Carney (Hart Bochner), a charming, good-looking, leather-jacketed American businessman. Carney, who looks like a cross between Sylvester Stallone, Richard Gere, and Nicholas Cage, reveals nothing about his background but is ostensibly working for a computer company. Adrian is a movie buff and has a good mind for movie history but tends to be dismissive of those who have less knowledge. His apartment is filled with posters of movie actors (mostly gay) and he engages Jack in games about movie trivia. 

Both Firth and Bochner are outstanding, though both play "types" and their characters are explored only on a surface level. Their relationship has an undercurrent of unspoken sexual attraction and we sense that there may be many secrets bubbling beneath the surface of both men's lives. To make matters even stranger, a serial killer is on the loose as we see the daily newspapers headline a climbing body count – apparently victims of political assassination. Jack, however, reaches out to the other tenants in the building (in more ways than one). 

On one occasion, Jack climbs a long shaky ladder to rescue a black cat, hypnotizing it with his eyes. Although he shows a side of himself that is caring and sympathetic, it only makes Adrian more resentful. When he discovers a set of strange army photos in Jack's bedroom, he begins to suspect that his roommate may somehow be tied in with the report of killings by foreign mercenaries and he is pushed closer to the edge. Apartment Zero is a heady trip that will take you to the dark recesses of your mind. No violence is shown, nor any overt sexual scenes. The power of the film comes from what is implied and that is enough to keep us riveted from the beginning to its chilling conclusion. 


Howard Schumann
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