Film Review – The Landlord
The Landlord (2009) is a shoestring indie horror comedy, written and directed by Emil Hyde. It tells the story of brother and sister Tyler (Derek Dziak) and Amy (Michelle Courvais), who have the unenviable task of being the owners of an apartment building that a couple of human-eating demons are treating as a personal buffet. To complicate matters, Amy, a cop, has various dubious street deals going on with a gang of vampire-ish thugs, and Tyler starts to develop feelings for the latest tenant, Donna, (Erin Myers) who will soon probably become a demon snack. And there are some detectives who would like to know a bit more about all of these missing tenants. And Donna is on the run from her abusive husband and looking for an abortion. And Amy is having an affair with her partner. And one of the demons has a bit of a home shopping problem.
In case it isn’t clear, there is a lot going on in this film, plot-wise. Some of these elements work well, and some not so much. The relationship between Tyler and the Hawaiian-shirt-wearing, beef-jerky-maker-buying demon Rabisu (Rom Barkhordar) provides a few chuckle-worthy moments, as the put-upon Tyler reacts to Rabisu’s impulsive eating of some tenants before they’d paid the rent in much the same way someone else might chide a roommate for being loud while they were trying to sleep. The interplay between tough and bossy Amy and slacker Tyler is also initially intriguing. Amy’s a refreshing sort of character; the viewer might not be sure whether they want to root for her or not. As her back alley dealings escalate and begin to threaten her family, her actions are not what one might expect of a typical female character in a horror film. Likewise, the character of Donna also surprises, as many films would have had her general naivete as a country girl in the big city translate to a straight damsel-in-distress scenario. But Donna is a spitfire who can hold herself together in the most manic of situations, several of which she faces well before ever taking notice of any demons. (Watch for Emil Hyde in a small role as the clerk at a seedy motel who gives Donna her first taste of city life.)
Unfortunately, even with a fun premise, several strong characters, and decent-enough acting, things don’t really come together. With all of the threads introduced that the film must then scurry to wrap up, it’s disappointing that, for the most part, the 98 minutes drags. Aside from a couple of scenes near the end of the film, there is little sense of urgency, which is a crucial element for a successful horror film. (And 98 minutes really is a bit long for this sort of affair.) A less-is-more approach would have worked very well with this material, I think. I could easily see the two main storylines (Tyler, Donna & the apartment building and Amy & the vamp gang) being split into two successful 20-minute shorts. Less is more would also have been a good motto with some of the makeup and special effects, which are a bit distracting at times, when the low budget obviously didn’t allow for the greatest product. This is understandable, but avoidable; no one says people-eating demons have to have weird dog faces.
Despite its lack of cohesion, the film does entertain. There are some good comic moments, and the screenplay is certainly not predictable. The vibe that monsters are just part of daily routine works well, though the serious tone of Amy’s storyline and the more comic tone of Tyler’s clash a bit. Overall, if you are a fan of indie horror, this film is worth a look. It’s available now on DVD and Netflix streaming.
Final Grade: B-
Our interview with Emil Hyde at Crypticon: