The stay at home mom being terrorized by an unseen force is a well worn trope in thrillers, but writer/director John Ainslie makes it work in The Sublet. Joanna (Tianna Nori) and Geoff (Mark Matechuk) show up to look at an apartment only to find a note left for them that explains they are welcome to stay if it suits their needs or keep moving if it doesn’t. They find this strange, but the price is right while Geoff tries to get acting work and Joanna is still on maternity leave with their son Porter.
While Geoff is at work, Joanna settles into a daily routine and though she hears a lot of knocking on walls and the doors open by themselves, she chalks it up to the apartment being older. There isn’t even an elevator in this building as we see when she hauls the baby stroller up multiple flights of stairs after her daily walk. It’s when the furniture that she moved finds itself back to it’s original placement that she beings to question her reality. As if the apartment can feel her suspicions, the door to the one locked room magically opens. Joanna and Porter both find that they feel comfortable in this room and, conveniently, there is a baby bassinet in here for Porter to take naps in. Joanna finds a diary and begins to read it and this is when we start learning that there is a sinister history to this apartment. Or perhaps the entire building is not what it seems: Joanna points out to Geoff that she hears people, she smells cooking, but she never, ever sees another person. Except for the lady that is always standing outside of her kitchen window.
Ainslie wrote the screenplay with Alyson Richards and the inclusion of a female voice is exactly what elevates this movie. Only a woman can truly understand the strange isolation of being home alone all day with a human being who can’t yet hold a conversation and despite keeping your baby happy and healthy, maintaining your home and marriage, people still manage to comment on your weight and overall appearance. You’ve never felt so overwhelmed and so alone all at once and this is the perfect time for a malicious presence to overtake you and your sanity.
Nori makes excellent work of trying to maintain her sanity despite being engaged in a losing battle. In fact, her acting only highlights Matechuk’s mild overacting. The toying with time and reality begins to unravel towards the end of the film and one of the final shots feels egregiously familiar, but the fact that they have created a truly engaging horror mystery without the use of CGI, jump scares or unnecessary violence more than makes up for it. A bare bones thriller, in the very best way, The Sublet uniquely explores the complexities of isolation and the myriad of expectations put upon new mothers.
Lisa Fremont | Twitter: @lcfremont