Thursday, July 30, 2009

In short: Tenement (1985)

The multi-racial gang of sociopathic victim of facial muscle paralysis Chaco (Enrique Sandino) has found a nice warm home for themselves in the cellar of a rundown tenement building in the Bronx. There they can really live the gang lifestyle - snorting coke, smoking joints and eating raw rat.

Alas, their paradise is short-lived when one of the building's tenants calls the police on them. At least they are able to hide their drugs and weapons before the cops show up and so their stay in custody is only for a few hours.

Chaco is rather pissed by the whole affair and swears vengeance on everyone in the building. The same night, he and his gang attack their unsuspecting victims.

Theoretically, we now witness how the gang slowly works through the building, killing and raping like pirates and how the tenants are desperately struggling for survival.

I remember having had some nice things to say about Roberta Findlay's Lurkers, but I find Tenement to be much harder to get enthusiastic about.

Sure, Findlay's hand for filming urban decay is present, but it's really the only thing halfway praisable about the film. Tenement's core problem lies in its terrible hesitancy to commit to being nasty or poignant or disturbing. It has all the elements of a really mean little film, yet whenever the time comes to truly deliver on its promise of depravity and bad times, it doesn't follow through. There are scenes that should be highly tasteless and disturbing, but Findlay's direction gets so unsure and wavering whenever it should be ruthless that they don't have much of an effect at all. Which wouldn't be much of a problem if it were a sign of subtlety or class, but Tenement is the sort of film that succeeds or fails on pure meanness alone - if it doesn't make its viewers uncomfortable, it won't do much else than bore them.

It doesn't help at all that most of the film consists of scenes and scenes and scenes of the gang destroying furniture and banging against heaters or the tenants sitting around and not saying anything of import (character arcs are right out anyway), not activities I'd usually connect with tension or suspense.

The whole film just never really comes together, leaving what should be shocking and exhilarating just kind of boring and dispiriting.


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